Educator advocacy groups seek lawmakers’ help to remediate teacher shortage ‘crisis’

Published: Nov. 8, 2021 at 9:10 PM EST
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - South Carolina’s teachers say they are dealing with a “crisis,” a critical shortage of teachers across the state.

At the beginning of last year, a report found there were nearly 700 open teaching positions in South Carolina.

“That was a 26% increase from the prior year,” Palmetto State Teachers Association Director of Governmental Affairs Patrick Kelly said. “While the data this year is still preliminary, it looks like we’re going to have over a thousand vacant teaching positions to start this school year.”

Now two of those groups that advocate on behalf of thousands of teachers, the Palmetto State Teachers Association and the South Carolina Education Association, are appealing to lawmakers for help when they return to Columbia in January for their legislative session.

“For years now, we’ve just piled more and more and more on teachers’ plates, but we’ve never taken anything away from them,” SCEA President Sherry East said. “So you have evaluations going on, now all the COVID protocol going on, standards, standardized testing, the pressure of all of those things, and behavior.”

The organizations share several similar requests for lawmakers to address this problem in their recently released 2022 legislative agendas.

Both are asking for them to raise teachers’ pay, as they have done in recent years, but they said to keep educators in the classroom — and in the profession — it will take more than that.

“If we don’t find a way to reverse that trend, every other reform or policy that we come up with is simply not going to pay off because our students need access to great teachers,” Kelly said.

The groups assert an improvement in working conditions, as well as boosts in recruitment and retention efforts, are needed to keep more teachers teaching, including more training and mentoring programs with more money put into them.

“We need to address those structural issues so that we’re not burning out the educators we have because right now, we don’t have any in the pipeline. We’re also seeing decreased enrollment in college educator preparation programs,” Kelly said.

They are also both calling for smaller class sizes, changes to the state’s teaching licensing and contract processes, and protected and uninterrupted planning time.

“Especially in our elementary schools, they eat lunch with their children. We don’t have what’s called duty-free lunch here, so that means for an elementary teacher, you start your day, you take them to lunch, you eat lunch with them, and you don’t get a break to go to the restroom yourself, and it’s wrong,” East said.

In their agendas, the associations said they hope lawmakers will do more to incentivize teaching in rural areas, saying the teacher shortage affects those areas more than in urban districts.

Among other priorities, both groups are also asking lawmakers to put more money behind wraparound services, like mental health resources, and decrease the number of state standardized tests.

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