Weeks before students flooded the halls, Principal Jeremy Carrick of R.B. Stall High School was in a bind: He still needed to find an English teacher and a social studies teacher.
Carrick said English and social studies teachers are typically the easiest to find, so his difficulty filling those positions, even so close to the start of school, raised a red flag to him.
“Usually, even in August, you’ll have several good quality candidates looking for positions before the school year started, and that wasn’t the case this year,” he said.
As the first day loomed, Carrick decided to adjust the school schedule to avoid having classes with no teachers. The classes those teachers would have taught will instead start in the second semester of the school year, giving Carrick more time to find candidates.
Kathleen Magliacane, director of teacher recruitment and staffing for Charleston County School District, said this is one of several strategies the district uses when it’s unable to fill teaching positions, an increasing problem across the state. The district also sometimes asks teachers to give up their planning period to teach an extra class, and sometimes uses substitute teachers.
The Center for Educator Recruitment, Retention & Advancement, South Carolina’s teacher recruitment program, said in its annual Teacher Supply Study (.pdf) that approximately 6,400 teachers across the Palmetto State left their positions at the end of the 2015-16 school year — 1,600 of them left for another district, but at least 330 left the profession completely and 1,400 cited personal reasons for leaving or did not give a reason.
At the beginning of November, Magliacane said, 32 full-day classroom positions were open in Charleston County.
The state saw a shortage of about 750 teachers across the state for the 2016-17 school year, according to the report, particularly in special education, science and math. The report projected the deficit to grow to about 3,800 teachers by 2021 and about 6,000 by 2027 if preventative measures aren’t taken.
The report projected a surplus of teachers in several subjects, including early childhood, English and physical education.
Todd Scholl, coordinator of communications and technology for the center, said pinpointing a single reason why teachers leave is difficult
“There are many factors, but I would point to teachers having a stressful work environment, a sense that they’re not really being paid enough, (and) sometimes not being treated as professionals,” he said.
The problem is more than just teacher retention, though — Scholl said the number of students entering the profession is declining and that rural districts especially are struggling to attract teachers because the pay is typically lower and young teachers often don’t want to live in rural areas.
“Some districts have recruitment and retention issues because ... they’re geographically isolated, their funding is a little bit less because maybe they don’t have the infrastructure of Spartanburg or Greenville or Charleston or Myrtle Beach or Horry County,” Scholl said.
John Read, CEO of the Tri-County Cradle to Career Collaborative, said the pipeline of education students has dried up in South Carolina. Deans from six S.C. schools and colleges of education warned in a letter earlier this year that enrollment in education programs is declining by 4% per year.
This is dangerous, Read said, as baby boomers approach retirement age. Approximately 2,240 teachers retired in 2015 and 2016, according to the state recruitment and retention center.
In addition, an increasing number of companies in the Lowcountry are looking to hire students with science, technology, engineering and math skills.
“This issue of teacher shortage, particularly in STEM, will virtually halt the efforts to fill all of the critical occupational gaps that we have unless we address it,” Read said.
Sources of the shortage
Glenn Tollevsen, a kindergarten teacher at Stono Park Elementary School in West Ashley, said a number of his former colleagues have given up on teaching. The thought has crossed his mind, too, he said, despite how much he loves teaching.
“The county is always saying, ‘You have to hit this score and you have to make this much growth,’ and stuff like that, but they’re not in that kid’s situation or that teacher’s situation to see that yes, we’re working as hard as we can, we’re getting there, but we’re not there yet,” he said. “It’s a process. And I feel like some teachers really get that pressure put on them ... and I know a lot of my friends get frustrated for that reason.”
Tollevsen has been teaching for 11 years, seven with Charleston County School District. He won Teacher of the Year twice and was a runner-up for the award in the most recent school year.
Tollevsen said a bigger school leads to more burnout. Stono Park has only two classes per grade, which he said fosters a supportive community among teachers.
“My friends who are in (schools that are) doing five classes per grade level, for example, they seem to have small little cliques that occur, and therefore that negativity rolls instead of any kind of camaraderie,” he said. “The smaller the school, the better off the teacher is, especially any new teachers.”
Tollevsen said he’s seen the Charleston County School District try to support new teachers through training and mentoring, but he said the training is difficult to translate into the classroom.
“I’ve seen them (the school district) come and support a lot of teachers, and they’ll have a lot of meetings and they’ll give a lot of strategies, but it’s still different than being in that classroom and seeing it for yourself,” he said.
Fran Welch, dean of the College of Charleston School of Education, Health and Human Performance, said two big reasons teachers leave are salary — which is based on 9.5 months of work and often is not enough for families to live on — and working conditions.
“That includes the principal — and who is the principal and how that principal leads — the colleagues in a building, how difficult or easy or collaborative those colleagues are; the safety and security in the building ... and just discipline in the school — and again, that goes back to the leadership,” Welch said. “Those work conditions are just as important as the salary.”
She added that teaching isn’t as well-regarded as it has been in years past.
“Now teachers are exposed to all sorts of disgruntled parents, citizens, and it just makes for a profession that appears to not be as highly regarded as it used to be,” Welch said.
Kathy Maness, executive director of the Palmetto State Teachers Association, a trade association, agreed that teachers aren’t getting the same respect or support from administrators and parents that they used to. In other countries, she said, teachers are treated “like rock stars,” but that’s not the case in the United States.
She said communities need to be more supportive of education, and recommended business leaders and community members go as far as volunteering in schools and observing classes to see how things are being done.
“We need to get back to teachers feeling like they are rock stars and the community and the parents and the students treating them like they are rock stars,” Maness said.
Bernadette Hampton, president of the S.C. Education Association, a public education advocacy group, said the No Child Left Behind Act “devalued education as a whole,” placing too much focus on test scores, which led to more teacher stress.
“We are not allowing teachers to instill the love of learning within our students through exploration and investigative activities because ... class time is being taken up on test preparation,” she said.
Hampton said that testing is a necessary tool to evaluate students but that it shouldn’t be used to evaluate teacher performance. She added, too, that students are discouraged from becoming teachers when they see how stressful the profession can be.
Randy Eads, executive director of personnel for Dorchester School District 2, said school districts are competing for talent not only with each other, but also with private businesses.
College graduates “go out to industry and work in math and science industries, and the pay is significantly higher,” he said. “And it’s not just the industry, but I would say South Carolina in general, when we’re recruiting ... we’re surrounded by states that are paying $10,000 to $15,000 more per year starting salary, so we’re having to compete against that as well.”
Dorchester 2 listed two open teaching positions on its website at the beginning of November.
‘What can we do?’
Gov. Henry McMaster began touring some of the state’s poorest school districts late last month in part to figure out how to attract more people into education.
“What we’ve done in the past in the state over the years is we can attract very bright, energetic, very skilled teachers to the state or to a part of the state, in the rural areas for example, but they don’t stay long because they’re looking for more,” he said.
McMaster said the state is currently looking at helping towns provide libraries, restaurants and other resources that rural areas typically don’t have.
McMaster’s tour is focused on eight districts affected by the 2014 Supreme Court decision in Abbeville County School District v. State of South Carolina (.pdf), which said the state has failed to provide a “minimally adequate” education to children in its poorest school districts. None of the districts is in the tri-county area.
State Superintendent Molly Spearman has said she will ask state lawmakers to approve a 2% pay increase for all S.C. teachers when the General Assembly reconvenes in January, as well as a 6% increase in starting salaries for new teachers to make the field more attractive.
The superintendent also convened an Educator Retention and Recruitment Study Committee earlier this year at the behest of the General Assembly.
Spearman did not respond by press time to questions from the Business Journal.
Hampton said that a pay raise is a good start but that it can’t be the only solution. Teachers also need better working conditions and access to resources.
“We have so many discrepancies between equity within schools, within school districts and between school districts; but we also need to look at resources that are beyond academic resources, such as the school psychologist, mental health counselors, guidance counselors, school nurse and social worker,” she said. “These are five different professionals, but when they work cohesively and collaboratively together, then we have a greater impact on meeting the needs of students.”
Hampton said the causes of student behavior aren’t being properly dealt with right now, which adds to teacher stress.
Bill Briggman, chief human resources officer for Charleston County School District, said the district recruits teachers year-round. Spring is a prime time to hire, he said, but the recruitment team is constantly looking for teachers.
Briggman said Charleston County has a slight advantage over other districts, because Charleston is a desirable place to live and work; but the district also offered a $10,000 signing bonus, paid over two years, to teachers who were hired to teach math or science.
Magliacane, the district’s recruitment director, said the district often helps connect newly hired teachers to less expensive living arrangements than pricey downtown Charleston housing.
“If they could consider the North Charleston, West Ashley, Goose Creek areas, it’s very manageable as far as a commute to our schools but would help their salary go a little bit further with their housing,” she said.
Briggman and Magliacane said despite the size of the district, there aren’t certain schools easier to hire for than others.
“Some teachers ... really want to be in a Title I school, both for the benefit of loan forgiveness programs but also really having the heart and desire to work in a school that needs the most help,” Magliacane said. “And then we have other teachers who want to live and work in the same community. They want to be able to walk to their school or they want to be able to live in the attendance area for the school that they work.”
Title I, Part A of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act provides financial assistance to schools with high numbers of children from low-income families. Forty-eight of Charleston County’s 85 schools are Title I schools.
Cradle to Career’s Read said that he’s noticed more openings at Title I schools than others in the area and that the tri-county area needs to be better at incentivizing positions at those schools.
Eads said Dorchester 2 uses its proximity to Charleston as a selling point to potential applicants, especially when recruiting teachers from out of state. Eads and other staff members take annual trips to Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan and other Northern states to attract graduating education students to the district.
Glenda Levine, chief human resources officer for Berkeley County School District, said her district approaches the problem from a position of offense, rather than defense. At the beginning of November, Berkeley County listed 20 open elementary school teaching positions, 13 middle school positions and 19 high school positions.
“We said, ‘What can we do?’ because at the end of the day it’s about serving our students and serving our schools and communities,” she said.
‘We have to honor the profession’
Berkeley County offered signing bonuses to teachers who started at the beginning of the school year — something Levine said the district will do again next year — as well as relocation expenses for anyone moving from outside a 100-mile radius.
Levine said the county also has several initiatives to make sure teachers are supported throughout the school year, including professional learning communities, where teachers can collaborate with one another, and Teacher Forum, a program replicated from a statewide initiative that includes teachers in district policy decisions by sending the Teacher of the Year to board meetings with the chief district officers.
Levine said teachers “have to have a voice in terms of the processes and the different things that are going on in the district, so that’s where a whole lot of the support comes from. Teachers having a voice is huge nowadays. It should’ve always been huge, but it’s even greater nowadays.”
Maness said the Palmetto State Teachers Association has also been lobbying for student loan forgiveness and a Legislative Incentive for Future Excellence Scholarship enhancement for education majors. The Life Scholarship currently offers a $2,500 enhancement for qualified students majoring in a STEM field.
Read said no silver bullet exists for solving the problem and that communities need to work together to better support teachers.
“We have to honor the profession, we have to encourage students in math to prepare for a career in teaching, we have to make it rewarding for them,” he said. “Those are the things that we as a community need to do. The school district can’t do it alone; business leaders need to put pressure on the school boards to say, ‘This has to happen, or we’ll take our jobs elsewhere.’”