Politics & Government

Why do SC teachers quit? Low pay isn’t the only reason, they say

Why do SC teachers quit? Low pay isn't the only reason

Two Midlands SC teachers on why their colleagues quit the teaching profession
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Two Midlands SC teachers on why their colleagues quit the teaching profession

They are overworked and underpaid, sometimes physically threatened at work and increasingly disrespected.

Five S.C. teachers shared those experiences Thursday, telling a panel of educators, legislators and state officials why they became teachers – making a difference in a child’s life, providing a safe space – and what is driving some of their colleagues out of the classroom.

“There’s a lot of good in education. But I’m here to tell you, there’s a lot of bad,” Vanessa Torres, a Spanish teacher in the Lexington-Richland 5 school district, told the panel, tasked with figuring out how to keep talented teachers from leaving the classroom.

That challenge comes as South Carolina grapples with a severe teacher shortage that is expected to worsen with next summer’s end of a popular retirement program, which allows retirement-age teachers to continue working.

On the wish list?

Paying teachers more – something state schools Superintendent Molly Spearman wants to do – would help attract more people into the profession, the teachers said.

“Competitive pay, incentives – we need to feel like our voice is valued in Washington, in Columbia,” said Ann Blackman, a second-grade teacher in the Clarendon 1 school district.

However, better salaries are only part of the solution to a bigger problem, the teachers said, noting they work long hours, and long for more training and support.

Giving teachers an assistant or more time outside of class to do grades and paperwork, prepare for classes and attend to other required tasks would allow teachers to focus on instruction, they said.

“We’re literally running people out of the profession because there aren’t enough hours in the day to do what we’re asking them to do,” said Patrick Kelly, who teaches Advanced Placement U.S. Government at Blythewood High School in the Richland 2 school district.

To put the time requirement in perspective, Kelly said it takes about four hours to grade a single-page writing assignment for nearly 100 students. That is almost all the planning time a teacher has at school in a week, he said.

First-year teachers also could use lighter workloads, more training and the opportunity to work with and learn from other teachers, they said.

For example, Justin Goldsmith, a fifth-grade teacher at Legacy Early College Middle School in the state’s public charter school district, said a more experienced teacher modeled teaching for him, an experience that helped him a lot.

Disrespect – inside and outside of schools – also drives teachers out of the classroom, some teachers said.

“Imagine seeing a 200-pound student chase down one of your teachers and punch her in the face and break her glasses and continue to punch her,” Torres said, sharing the experience of another S.C. teacher, who quit because her assailant received minimal punishment.

Torres relayed other horror stories: A student throwing a chair at a teacher and another pouring a chocolate milkshake over a teacher’s belongings.

“Why is the devaluation of teachers happening? It’s because we are allowing this kind of disrespect. Would you want to become a teacher if you saw that, if you saw your teacher treated that way?” she asked.

That lack of respect extends beyond school grounds, some of the teachers said.

College professors sometimes discourage talented students from becoming teachers, implying the profession is beneath them. Some high school students rule out becoming a teacher because “teachers are viewed as lower-class workers in their community,” Blythewood’s Kelly said, citing results of a survey of prospective teachers.

Kelly said a student told him, “ ‘Why should I do so much work for so little respect?’ which I thought was a pretty telling statement.”

The teacher recruitment panel meets again Oct. 19 to discuss recommendations.