A student in Greenwood County School District 50 raises his hand during the first day of school.

More teachers are leaving their classrooms and fewer college students are graduating with teaching degrees each year, according to a study done by the Center for Educator Recruitment, Retention and Advancement.

The study said about 6,500 public school teachers didn’t return to their teaching positions for the 2016-17 school year, and more than 4,800 of them are not teaching in any other South Carolina school district.

Of those 6,500, 38 percent left within their first five years of teaching and 12 percent left within their first year of teaching.

Jennifer Garrett, coordinator for research and program development with CERRA, said not only is there a gap in how many teachers are leaving and how many are entering the profession, but the career is not an attractive one.

“That gap just keeps widening, leaving us with, frankly, not enough teachers,” Garrett said. “Just based on sort of anecdotal and speculation and things like that, it’s just not an attractive profession right now for whatever reason -- a number of reasons probably. Young people aren’t interested in entering the profession.”

The CERRA study doesn’t go into why fewer students are pursuing a teaching degree, but Garrett said there are several factors that could contribute to the decline.

“I think probably pay has a lot to do with it, probably working conditions have a lot to do with it. I think they talk to other people and other teachers and a lot of students, we find their parents say, ‘You really need to think about doing something else,’” Garrett said. “I suspect that those things are going on.”

Garrett said high student-to-teacher ratios in classrooms directly affect the quality of education and is often detrimental to students in other ways.

“A lot of these students, they look to these teachers for more than just teaching -- they look to them as parents, they look to them as nurses and social workers, and some of these kids, their teachers are their everything,” Garrett said. “When they’re leaving, and you can’t blame the teachers a lot of times, but when they’re leaving, it is detrimental to that student and that student’s quality of learning and that student’s achievement level.”

Contributing to the problem is the ever-rising population of students in school districts, which possibly hits rural districts hardest because new teachers aren’t interested in moving there.

“Some of those more rural, higher-poverty districts, those are the ones that are going to see the highest teacher turnover and that really experience difficulties in recruiting and retaining those teachers,” Garrett said. “A lot of times, they’re moving to more attractive districts — they might be able to pay a little bit more, they might just be closer to where they live.”

Educational leaders in the state have attended meetings and already started preparing for an even greater need for teachers in coming years, and Garrett said districts approach the issue in different ways.

“Every district is different -- not every district in the state has these problems,” Garrett said. “A lot of districts in the Upstate are doing fine, but I will say I have heard and have even seen articles being written about districts who’ve never had any problems hiring teachers and keeping teachers, and this is the first year that they’ve started to see those struggles.”

After the recession hit in 2008, districts across the country were cutting positions and laying off teachers to save costs, creating a large supply but low demand for them.

Now that the economy has steadied and the nationwide unemployment rate is less than 5 percent, districts are finding themselves with a large demand of teachers and not enough supply.

Garrett said the trend is nationwide, and Greenwood County School District 50 is not immune to it.

Christi Louden, assistant superintendent for human resources in the district, said the district has increased its recruitment efforts by going to job fairs and colleges and universities across the state.

“We’re going so that they can see our face, know who we are, let them know that we’re hiring. Another thing we’re doing is we’re offering a $1,000 sign-on bonus for induction teachers (those new to the field) for this coming school year, and we’ve done a sign-on bonus in the past, but it hasn’t been quite that large,” Louden said.

Louden said the district had 620 teachers for 2015-16 with 62 who did not return, 16 who left after five years of experience and 10 who left after one year of experience.

“That’s a sharp contrast to 2008-09, when there were people graduating and nobody was hiring because the funds were gone. That may have contributed to the problem we have now, because less people were going (into teaching) because there weren’t jobs,” Louden said. “Now we have jobs, but we don’t have the people.”

Districts have also been reaching out to non-education majors and graduates to show them what teaching has to offer. The Program of Alternative Certification for Educators and Career and Technology Education give individuals who want to change their career to teaching an opportunity to do so.

Certain districts and schools in the state offer loan forgiveness for graduates who move to them, as well as for teachers of subjects with a higher shortage -- such as math and science -- but the locations and subject areas change every year. District 50 has 11 schools that qualify for loan forgiveness this year.

Of the teacher shortage, Louden said, “It is being discussed at all of our state meetings, even at WPEC we’ve discussed it and we share ideas amongst ourselves. I don’t think it’s a problem that’s going to go away quickly.”

Contact staff writer Ariel Gilreath at 864-943-5644 or follow on Twitter@IJARIELGILREATH.

In District 50, there are 11 school this year that qualify for teachers to receive loan forgiveness:

-- Brewer Middle School

-- Eleanor S. Rice Elementary School

-- Emerald High School

-- Lakeview Elementary School

-- Mathews Elementary School

-- Merrywood Elementary School

-- Northside Middle School

-- Pinecrest Elementary School

-- Springfield Elementary School

-- Westview Middle School

-- Woodfields Elementary School