It’s August, so the race is on: Will S.C. school districts be able to hire enough teachers to fill all the classrooms before the students return?
The teacher shortage has been lurking and growing for a long time. Unfortunately, like so many problems in South Carolina (roads, prisons, social services, nuclear power plants, you name it), we’re talking about closing the barn door after the horses have escaped.
Our political leaders will probably seek quick-fix remedies. This is the wrong way to go. The long-term resolution to the teacher shortage will require a multi-faceted approach that addresses the systemic problems that caused the shortage in the first place.
TERI gets a lot of blame for the shortage, but the fact is that ending TERI did not cause shortage. TERI simply covered up the real causes of the shortage and delayed the day of reckoning.
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There are at least four significant problems in play.
Pay is obviously a huge issue. South Carolina is funding K-12 education at about $500 per student less than is required by law, so it shouldn’t be surprising that teacher pay here is lagging behind Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia and Florida. Low pay is a huge detriment to attracting and retaining high-quality teachers and a particular roadblock to attracting out-of-state teachers. The borderline-insulting one percent raise approved this year by the General Assembly didn’t do much to help.
No educator questions the need for accountability, but standardized tests now drive much of what happens in our classrooms.
A lack of professional autonomy is another significant factor. No educator questions the need for accountability, but standardized tests now drive much of what happens in our classrooms. Ask any teacher. South Carolina treats teachers like assembly-line workers producing widgets. This is not an environment conducive to attracting and retaining the kind of people we want in our schools.
The bubble-test culture has become oppressive and needs to be dialed down a couple of notches so teachers can teach again. I think parents would wholeheartedly agree with this idea.
Teacher-preparation programs in our state have not grown to meet the needs in our schools and are not producing anywhere near enough teachers to fill the vacancies. This means the pool of qualified applicants for teaching positions is nowhere near the size it needs to be. I think policymakers had hoped that alternative-certification programs might fill the void. This hasn’t happened.
Teachers need time to plan, collaborate, help each other and reflect.
Alternative certification is one viable strategy among many, if done right. But simply having content knowledge, while obviously important, is not sufficient. Most alternative-certification candidates enter our schools with little or no experience in classroom management and actual teaching. This means their first year is when they learn these areas and why these people often struggle, regardless of the support provided by their school and district. Alternative-certification programs would be much more effective if they included a required student-teaching experience. This would help these candidates to be more successful and promote higher retention.
Finally, teachers need time to plan, collaborate, help each other and reflect. And they need resources to help students who are struggling academically and with behavior and mental health problems. Classrooms today are more diverse than ever and have more challenges than ever. Teachers are expected to do more for more types of students than was ever expected in the past. The lack of time to do what is expected and the lack of support services for students who need more help are leading to the burnout and exodus of good and dedicated people.
I would challenge any politicians and policymakers to leave their offices for a couple of days and substitute in a real classroom in a real public school. This will show them first-hand what I’m talking about. As a bonus, they will also learn how to eat lunch in 27 minutes and to go to the bathroom only when they aren’t supervising students.
Dr. Morgan just retired as Kershaw County school superintendent; contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.