Opinion Extra

Teachers leave because we don’t let them teach

Twenty-two percent of new S.C. teachers hired in 2016 left after one year. Thirty-eight percent of teachers left within their first five years.
Twenty-two percent of new S.C. teachers hired in 2016 left after one year. Thirty-eight percent of teachers left within their first five years. The State file photo

“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.”

“‘Standardized Test Scores.’ Those three words head the list of reasons teachers like me give up their dream. … Crushing paperwork, time crunches, absurd curricula and unrealistic expectations only accelerate the resulting exodus of high-quality teachers.”

“Teaching morals and good character has been de-emphasized.”

These are the words of a few S.C. teachers. No wonder many cannot wait to leave. Twenty-two percent of new teachers hired in 2016 left after one year. Thirty-eight percent of teachers left within their first five years. And S.C. colleges graduate about one-third less teachers than just a few years ago.

Many politicians focus on teacher salaries as a solution. And the teachers I talk to would like a higher salary. But they equally, if not more so, are concerned about the mind-numbing regulation and red tape, the physically sickening gauntlet of assessments and the real prospect of violence that renders their jobs nearly impossible.

We suffer statewide critical shortage of middle-level teachers in social studies, math, English and science. Clearly, higher salaries, the fiscally devastating TERI program and other financial incentives have failed to solve the problem. South Carolina needs radical structural reform.

I unequivocally believe in school choice and tax credits to support it. I authored the Exceptional Needs scholarship program, and I want to see it expanded for every child in South Carolina. School choice and successful public schools are complementary pursuits.

Our decades-old system for K-12 education, however, simply no longer works. We must fundamentally change our approach.

The dozens of funding formulas, reams of regulation, destructive systems of assessment (of both students and teachers), all mandated by Columbia and Washington, have turned our public schools into Orwellian stages where individuals of talent either lose their heart or succumb to the paradox of the classroom as an assembly line — and then leave.

Columbia and Washington must stop micromanaging the classroom, and we must eliminate the S.C. Education Oversight Committee and its ruinous testing and reporting regime. The mindless coloring of bubbles wastes precious time and money, but the crushing tension and anxiety that begins weeks before the onslaught destroys the joy of learning for everyone, adults and children alike.

Many teachers leave the profession, especially from the challenging schools, because they have no ability to enforce rules and discipline. Teachers and principals should be given the freedom to control their classrooms.

Furthermore, we must grant control in security preparedness. One of the last bills I sponsored as a state senator codifies the freedom of local districts to arm people besides active-duty police. Examples might include school personnel, retired police or active Guardsmen, but it would be a local decision. Georgia passed a similar law in 2014. We must do that here.

Worthless paperwork, testing mania and chaotic classrooms leave teachers with no space, time or energy to teach. And too often, they are focused on raising the test scores of the struggling students or keeping unruly students from disrupting the classroom. Teachers spend very little time actually teaching, especially to those who want to learn.

We can discuss teacher salaries, but no amount of money will keep our good teachers on a road to ruin — with a bubble test at the end.

Mr. Bryant is S.C. lieutenant governor; contact him at ltgov@scstatehouse.gov.

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