Christopher Adams

(Rock Hill, S.C.) — A teacher shortage within South Carolina public schools has reached alarming levels over the last five years as an increasing number of educators have left their positions.

Following the 2017-2018 school year, a total of 7,339 teachers left their positions, according to statewide study produced by Winthrop University’s Center for Educator Recruitment, Retention and Advancement.

However, only 27 percent of those teachers left their job for another teaching position, which means 5,341 teachers were no longer working in any public school in the state.

The S.C. Department of Education formed the Educator Retention and Recruitment Study Committee in 2017 to identify the reasons behind the shortage and identify ways to recruit new teachers.

The committee created a forum to collect feedback from teachers and educators to identify problems with retention and recruitment. Of the 197 educators who responded, the top two reasons cited for teachers failing to enter or stay in the profession included low pay and a lack of support in the classroom and from administrators.

Rayven Sanders, a first-year pre-kindergarten teacher at Larne Elementary School in Clover, said the low salary is the main reason fewer people are entering the teaching field.

“Fewer students are entering the teaching profession because of pay,” she said. “A lot of things in the economy has risen or gone up, and with the teacher pay you get it is hard to make it with just that alone and no help.”

Jennie Rakestraw, dean of the Winthrop College of Education, said she wasn’t paid properly when she first started teaching.

“My first year I was being paid substitute pay,” said Rakestraw. “They didn’t even pay me regular pay and I had my degree.”

However, Sanders said the support of the administration also played a major role for her job satisfaction.

“I know for me choosing my school, a big thing for me was administration making sure we had the support that we needed,” said Sanders. “Also colleagues and the support of your colleagues and being in a good community where you know that parents are advocates for their children.”

Rakestraw said she didn’t feel supported early in her teaching career.

“My first couple of years I struggled. I didn’t have the school principal’s support that I thought I’d have,” said Rakestraw.

“There was a veteran teacher who helped me (and) I don’t know what I would have done without her. She was not a particularly warm person, but apparently she had enough compassion for me in a tough situation,” she said

“At that time, I really questioned the whole thing and just wanted to walk away from it.”

Rakestraw served on the Education Retention and Recruitment Study Committee, along with five other education deans from across the state, which attempted to create a marketing plan to encourage students to become teachers.

However, there were only 1,642 students who completed the South Carolina teacher education program at the end of the 2017-2018 school year.

“Teacher cadet programs are very important to start at a young age, simply because that’s when your students find out what they really want to be,” said Sanders. “It gives them time and it gives them options.”

Rakestraw said Winthrop works with over 20 high schools with teacher cadet programs.

“I think programs like that are just fantastic because it puts a teaching career on the radar and they get experience working with younger children and assisting in the classroom,” said Rakestraw. “They understand what it’s like more from a teacher’s perspective than just a student’s perspective.

“I think there are a lot of people that are just not encouraging students to go into teaching. Parents say you can go into major in business or you can do this and you going to make more money.”

The S.C. House of Representatives passed an education reform bill last month that would help increase the starting pay for teachers to $35,000. It would also consolidate smaller school districts or districts that are not performing well.

However, it’s unclear if the bill will become law, because the Senate is considering its own version of the bill intended to combat the teacher shortage.

Rakestraw said she believes the education reform bill is well intended, but schools should be left alone if they performing up to standards.

“If a small district is doing well and the achievement scores are doing okay, and fiscally they are managing themselves well, I think they ought to be left alone,” said Rakestraw.

Sanders said she doesn’t expect anything to change in the immediate future regarding the teacher shortage.

“I honestly don’t believe that teacher shortages is something that is going to get better for us,” said Sanders.