Education

Raising teacher pay was a recurring and obvious recommendation the Committee on Educator Retention and Recruitment heard while it studied South Carolina’s teacher shortage and retention problems.

But the committee, which was formed under Proviso 1.92, was tasked with more than just recommending the state raise teacher salaries — the goals for the 19-member task force were to identify the causes of the state’s shortages and recommend ways to address recruiting and retaining more teachers.

The committee’s report was released Dec. 29 with 29 recommendations aimed at addressing teacher shortages, retention and recruitment.

The decreasing number of teachers in the state is a problem that extends beyond salary, although the report concludes pay is a big part of it.

The committee consisted of superintendents, college representatives, legislators, members of education-related organizations and appointees.

Although teachers were not part of the task force, committee members said they were involved in the meetings and had a voice.

Steven English, McCormick High School’s principal, was a member of the committee who was appointed by state Sen. Shane Massey, R-Edgefield.

“They brought in teachers from rural districts who spoke about why teachers are leaving, and they were very honest and very blunt,” English said. “Especially rural districts like us, like McCormick, where it’s so hard — we want to do our best to attract and keep teachers.”

The top recommendation from the committee is to increase teacher pay and raise the $10,000 salary cap for retired teachers in high poverty areas.

But English said the problem requires much more than simply increasing pay.

“I don’t know if that was necessarily the biggest item, (in) listening to the teachers. I think sometimes when you’re in a rural school district, you just don’t feel supported,” English said. “What the teachers said is also they didn’t feel like some administrators were ready to be administrators for schools.”

Another issue teachers brought up in the committee meetings was the amount of time spent disciplining and testing students.

“They spend a lot of time with discipline that takes way from time in the classroom. They spend a lot of time with testing and different things like that,” English said. “Of course everybody wants more pay, but I didn’t feel at all that the motivation of the teachers was more pay.”

The teacher shortage crisis is not isolated to South Carolina. Nationwide, districts are seeing a decrease in teachers returning to their classrooms each year. In North Carolina, about 9 percent of teachers leave the profession or find work in another state.

Greenwood County School District 52 Superintendent Fay Sprouse was also on the committee representing small districts.

Sprouse said pay was an obvious recommendation, but the brainstorming sessions also revolved around better preparing students early on to become teachers and providing more administrative support.

“There’s definitely more to it than just pay, although pay is a large part,” Sprouse said. “Being a teacher is a demanding profession. Yes, it’s rewarding, but many times teachers don’t feel that they have the support they need, and it just gets really overwhelming — particularly in the first through fifth years.”

However, Sprouse said she doesn’t think it’s possible for the legislature to adopt all 29 recommendations — it would have to be done incrementally.

A report released one year ago from the Center for Educator Recruitment, Retention and Advancement said nearly 6,500 teachers left their classrooms in 2016, and 4,842 of those teachers didn’t return to any classroom in South Carolina. About 38 percent of those teachers were in their first five years in the profession.

“I think we’ve reached critical mass as far as knowing that something has to be done in order for us to have an effective teacher in every classroom,” Sprouse said.

The committee received feedback and suggestions from teachers all over the state, which are included in the report anonymously.

“I would venture to say that most new teachers leave because of lack of support from their building administrators and alienation from veteran staff,” one teacher, who works in the Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Services, wrote.

“I should not walk down the hall and see new teachers in tears, not because they are busy planning for lessons or student issues, but instead having so many useless, needless, worthless hoops they are struggling to jump through,” a teacher of 30 years in South Carolina wrote.

A teacher with Ninety Six Elementary School ended her comments with, “Teachers leave the profession, because they are not valued.”

Contact staff writer Ariel Gilreath at 864-943-5644.