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Facing Growing Shortage, SC Pushes to Recruit Teachers

The Center for Educator Recruitment, Retention, & Advancement recorded nearly 6,900 departures at the beginning of the 2021-2022 school year – a 16% increase from the previous year. By February, 977 additional teachers had left.

As school winds down for the summer, South Carolina educators are gearing up to face the statewide teacher shortage.

In Richland School District Two, Deputy Superintendent Dr. Marshalynn Franklin explains the county has felt the shortage throughout the year, with vacancies taking weeks instead of days to fill.

“I think at this point, all of our positions are critical need positions,” Franklin says.

At the beginning of the 2021-2022 year, state schools reported 1,063 vacancies, according to the Center for Educator Recruitment, Retention, & Advancement (CERRA). CERRA is South Carolina’s state-designated data source for teacher supply and demand, conducting public education research alongside teacher support and advocacy work.

“It is a national problem; we are not unique in this,” CERRA’s Executive Director Dr. Jenna Hallman says.

CERRA recorded nearly 6,900 departures at the beginning of this school year – a 16% increase from the previous year. By February, 977 additional teachers had left.

The fall report does allow respondents to cover basic reasons teachers gave for leaving. For example, retirement remained relatively consistent at 18%, and the catch-all “external reasons answered” for 34% of departures. Only 3% of departees linked their decision to school climate, workload, or salary.

But Hallman emphasizes that those answers are vague when they are given at all, with departing teachers asked to tell their local personnel director why they left – the same person might be able to rehire them in the future or even be directly involved with a situation prompting their departure.

Hallman pointed to national trends amid issues with difficult working conditions and low starting salaries to contextualize the shortage.

“Somebody who graduates with an education degree may be coming out with a good bit of student loan debt,” Hallman expands. “And certainly in other professions that’s the case as well, but the increase in salary or those jumps in salary probably happen a little bit faster and in larger amounts.”

For the 2021-2022 school year, most of South Carolina’s school districts had base teacher salaries lower than $40,000. Earlier this month, the state legislature passed a minimum teacher salary raise from $36,000 to to $40,000; the proposed raise would not impact the size of yearly pay increases for teachers as they gain experience.

Beyond salary, Hallman says the state is looking to expand its search for new teachers.

“Gone are the days of the traditional job fair,” Hallman says.

In March, The South Carolina Department of Education created TEACHSC – a recruitment organization in partnership with the national TEACH nonprofit – with $1.69 million in federal COVID relief funds. TEACHSC’s website and programming aims to recruit more and more diverse prospective teachers.

“It’s not that the programs weren’t in South Carolina, but they were in different pockets and places of information,” TEACHSC Regional Program Manager Katie Crews says. “So, what’s nice about TEACHSC is that it’s one place where all these things are housed.”

For example, you can find CERRA’s Teaching Fellows program – a scholarship for high-achieving graduating seniors committed to teaching in a South Carolina public school after graduation – linked under the website’s “Become a Teacher” section.

“There’s a lot of people that still have the desire and the calling to be a teacher,” Crews says. “It's mostly perception barriers and just practical barriers.”

Barriers that TEACHSC aims to remove. Crews points to promoting teaching’s transferrable skills, comparable starting salaries to similar careers in the state, financial aid for degree and certification programs, and certification testing support.

Certification, the process to become authorized to teach in South Carolina, doesn’t require an education degree.

Alongside statewide programs, Franklin says Richland Two is getting creative about recruitment. For example, the district holds “teacher signings” for graduating seniors.

"When a student commits to going to college and playing at the collegiate level, we do the same type of event for students who have declared education as their major,” Franklin says. “And our goal is to maintain contact with those students throughout their years in college and recruit them back to Richland Two.”

Franklin explains Richland Two has leaned on retired teachers to both return as long-term subs and in newly created “adjunct positions,” teaching for only part of the school day in a high-demand area such as secondary science or math.

The district has also partnered with Columbia College to certify teaching assistants and place them in Richland Two Classrooms. County job fairs continue both in-person and virtually.

Looking ahead to the fall, Franklin sees recruitment as a community effort.

"Parents can also be recruiters for us,” Franklin emphasized. “Sharing stories about their school experience, their children sharing stories about their school experience. You never know when you may run into someone who is a teacher or even considering teaching.”