Politics & Government

Why they marched: At historic rally, SC teachers declare ‘state of emergency’

A sea of red, they were unified in the color of their T-shirts. They had a list of grievances in common.

But the crowd of 10,000 teachers and their allies — students and children included — marching on the S.C. State House Wednesday traveled from all over the state. They shared their own stories on how they arrived there and why they were demanding better treatment.

Some in attendance were lifelong or retired teachers, embarrassed or infuriated by the decline of education. Others were new, just a few months or years into their professions but already fed up with the silencing of their voices, the pressure and expectations, the low wages and the constant stress.

Here’s who they were and why they marched:

‘WTF? Where’s the funding?’

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Tom Barton tbarton@thestate.com

Madalyn Hazlett, a Dreher High School math teacher, said she has to “scrounge every penny” to provide calculators and basic school supplies out of her own pocket “so my students don’t have any excuse to not learn.”

“Yet, everything we are saying is not a surprise to anyone,” said Hazlett, wearing a sign that read “WTF? Where’s the funding?”

“We know students aren’t fully funded, and I hear from my friends all the time questioning why teachers are complaining, saying I knew what I was signing up for, which is disheartening,” she said just as Dreher senior, Kiara Stonestreet, shouted her name, and ran up to her to give her a hug. “We should be changing this problem, rather than accepting that it’s broken,” she said.

No breaks, no time, no money

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Steve Baughman, a teacher from Lancaster, holds a sign he made for the SC for Ed Teacher’s Rally at the South Carolina State House. An estimated 10,000 teachers and supporters attended the rally to push for widespread change in the state education system. 5/1/19 Tracy Glantz tglantz@thestate.com

Steve Baughman, who teaches special education in Lancaster County, said he wants more time and money to do professional development. Last year, he spent 10 percent of his income on extra training to better serve his students, he said, and has given more than 70 hours of free tutoring in the past seven months.

Jennifer Baughman, a high-school English teacher in Rock Hill, said it is easy to burn out as a teacher. For 8 or 9 hours, with no time to use the bathroom or sometimes even to eat, workdays are nonstop.

“There’s just no break, day after day,” she said.

But the couple faces an even greater sacrifice continuing their careers as S.C. public school teachers.

All combined, the Baughmans are short on hours in the day and short on dollars to spend on their own child, a 7-year-old boy recently diagnosed with depression.

To get him help, it would cost the Baughmans about $340 per week — an impossible expense that has left them out of options.

So they marched in Columbia, Steve with a toilet seat and lid around his neck that read, “Stop throwing education in the toilet, SC.”

‘I have nothing for my kids’

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Isabella Cueto icueto@thestate.com

Richland 2 school district, where Amanda Bradley teaches, closed Wednesday, so she brought three of her four children with her to march.

“This is history. This will be forever remembered in history,” she said, with the second, fifth and eighth graders nearby.

Bradley is in her ninth year as a special education teacher. She said she feels a ton of pressure to be a great teacher and also a present, generous mother. But after working through the day, burning through her lunchtime, she is depleted by the time she gets home.

“I have nothing for my kids at the end of the day,” she said.

Bradley said she considered leaving the profession but that, too, is complicated: “It’s hard being in your purpose and not having that fire and that passion,” she said.

After attending her first protest, she said change needs to happen, or it might be too late.

“They’re losing really good teachers. It’s a problem. And the demands of our students aren’t going to change,” she said.

‘Nothing’s changed’

Lauren Wiley, a math teacher at White Knoll Middle School in Lexington 1, marched more for other teachers than for herself Wednesday. That’s because she won’t be returning to the classroom once this academic year ends. She resigned after six years of teaching in her school district.

Wiley said when White Knoll Middle was declared a “priority school,” an institution with students falling behind so badly it needs special attention, she expected something to happen. “Nothing’s changed,” she said.

Wiley said she has taught in an 80-degree classroom for the past few days because the air conditioner broke. Her voice was hoarse from yelling over the whirring of two fans in her classroom. She said she works three other jobs — she’s a tutor, a fitness trainer and a bartender — to be able to afford rent. But she’s had enough.

“My heart is all in, but right now my heart is broken,” she said. “These kids deserve quality teachers and a quality education. Unfortunately, without the support of our state, this quality teacher has become a statistic and is leaving.”

Funding her own classroom ‘100%’

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Pam Bouchard, who teaches history and psychology at West Florence High School, pulled her second and fifth grade daughters out of school for the rally and protest “to see history in action.”

On having daughters at the rally: “My children want me to be part of history, she said of her daughters Ryleigh, 7, and Allie, 11. “They need to see that if you disagree with something, you stand up for it. We need change.”

In the classroom they’d be doing book work anyway, and because of discipline problems “they are not going to get what they need because class sizes are too big,” she said.

Bouchard, 35, who has been teaching for 10 years, said she’s funding her classroom “100 percent.“

“Thank goodness my husband has a good job, because he truly does fund my classroom,” she said. ”Every time I do a psychology lab, that’s $50 (to) $75 out of my pocket, out of my kids’ pockets.”

‘Figure out a way’

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Tom Barton tbarton@thestate.com

Aja Talbot-Modansky, 40, who teaches at arts-infused Windsor Hill Elementary School in North Charleston, held a black-and-white NWA style “Straight Outta Funding” sign.

While Talbot-Modansky doesn’t foresee teachers leaving South Carolina if they don’t get their way, “we are going to keep seeing that decline of new teachers coming in.”

She said lawmakers need to take teachers seriously “or this is going to happen again“ months from now.

On the education reform legislation stalling in the Senate: “There’s always a way to find a way to do something. I do it every day in my classroom. Monitor and adjust. Figure out a way to find that money. Figure out a way to get that bill passed.”

“I’ve had up to 28 second graders in my class to where it was unsafe where I was putting desks, because I was blocking windows and (out of compliance with) fire code,” she said. “That’s ridiculous. I can’t teach the way they want me to teach with 28 kids.”

Struggling, united, no longer silent

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Hartsville Middle School teacher Jeffery Tadlock said he’s disappointed that lawmakers have take little action after he shared his concerns with the Senate Education Committee in March.

“It’s almost like they didn’t hear what we were saying,” Tadlock, 28, said, holding a sign that read: “My 2nd job paid for this sign #FullyFundEd.”

Tadlock has five years experience teaching science and social studies and holds a bachelor’s degree in early childhood and elementary education and a master’s degree in school administration. But he’s forced to work a second job as a church ministry director to make ends meet, he said.

While he said he appreciates the fact lawmakers are focused on increasing teacher salaries, he said it’s not enough to help retain well-qualified and dedicated teachers.

“Lawmakers need to wake up and see teachers are no longer going to sit around.”

Class sizes, testing demands eating instructional time

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Richland 2 School District music teacher Camille Stack, a 20-year-veteran, participates in a teacher rally and protest at the S.C. State House Wednesday, May 1, 2019, urging lawmakers for better pay, smaller class sizes, less testing and better working conditions for educators. Tom Barton tbarton@thestate.com

S.C. schools chief Molly Spearman “poked the bear” Monday when she said teachers planning to protest for higher pay and better working conditions are “walking out on their obligations,” said Richland 2 music teacher Camille Stack.

Wearing a red-and-gold Wonder Woman T-shirt, Stack held a sign that read “We teach. What’s your super power?”

In 20 years teaching, Stack said she’s seen a steady rise in class sizes and more and more standardized testing heaped upon teachers and students.

“We have 180 days worth of school, but at least 23 of those (days are) spent in standardized testing,” she said. “That’s a little more than an eighth of our school year being used for testing,” which has taken away from instructional time.

Now, Stack, a teacher at the Center for Knowledge in Columbia, she sees her students only once a week for music instruction, the equivalent of 26 or 27 times a school year, she said.

“I’m losing even whole units of instruction due to testing,” she said.

Burning the candle at both ends

Tristan Hill teaches Spanish and French at the Charleston School of the Arts. He also tends bar to earn extra cash.

A teacher for 10 years, Hill said South Carolina is ignoring a dire problem: experienced teachers are being pushed out by a multitude of grievances and nobody is coming up to replace them.

Veterans like Hill cost school systems more, but they also offer institutional knowledge and serve as seasoned instructors who can support both students and beginner teachers, he said.

‘Those are the ones they are trying to keep, and those are the ones that are leaving,” he said.

Shaping the future

Dutch Fork High School 11th grader Anjali McDaniel joined her Lexington-Richland 5 school district social studies teacher Kelly Eckstrom to show that it is not just teachers being harmed by lawmakers inaction to shore up the state’s education system.

“They help us the best that they can, but we do have bigger class sizes which sometimes can be disruptive,” McDaniel said, with one protester holding a sign in the background that read “35 is a speed limit. NOT a class size.”

“We are the future so they are basically helping us shape our futures, so (lawmakers) need to understand that (teachers) have a really big impact on our lives and the future so they need to be represented better,” McDaniel said.

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Isabella Cueto is a bilingual multimedia journalist covering Lexington County, one of the fastest-growing areas of South Carolina. She previously worked as a reporter for the Medill Justice Project and WLRN, South Florida’s NPR station. She is a graduate of the University of Miami, where she studied journalism and theatre arts.
Tom Barton covers South Carolina politics for The State. He has spent more than a decade covering local governments and politicians in Iowa and South Carolina, and has won awards from the S.C. Press Association and Iowa Newspaper Association for public service and feature writing.
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