CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Dozens of teachers took a day off work Wednesday to get face to face with lawmakers they hope can solve problems they see in our state’s classrooms.
Many of them were from Lowcountry schools like Dorchester County School District Two. They gathered at the state house with other educators from across the state to make sure lawmakers understand the issues they are facing in their districts.
The meeting was organized by SC for Ed, a grassroots movement kick start major change in South Carolina’s public education system.
They specifically focused on teacher salaries and benefits, discipline, and school funding.
According to their mission statement on facebook, the group is for those who realize that teachers and school support staff can be the most important adult in a child’s life and for those who would like to reinforce respect for the profession from the legislature, parents and students.
One teacher from Fort Dorchester High School in Dorchester County School District Two said he's seen the impact of these issues with teacher retention, noting dozens of his colleagues had left in just the past several years.
"I have encountered more teachers that are leaving; more teachers that are openly talking about leaving; more teachers that are constantly on their phone looking up other job careers, other things to do," Willie Dasinger said. "That's been really distressing for me as a veteran teacher to know that a good number of people that are going to replace me will not be veterans. They will be brand new people, and they will be replaced with more brand new people from year to year, so the system has got to change."
The timing of Wednesday's meeting was important as lawmakers begin to pre-file bills that will be heard during the 2019 legislative session.
One lawmaker involved in Wednesday's meeting said he believes education reform has hit a boiling point in South Carolina, and the solution isn't necessarily about throwing more money at the problems.
Representative Chris Wooten says a "Teacher Bill of Rights" will be introduced when the legislator reconvenes in 2019.
It will lay out the authority of the profession to create an environment "conductive to learning, the implementation of effective instruction in the classroom, and the development of a culture of achievement in all of South Carolina's public schools."
Wooten said this "Bill of Rights" has been introduced before but didn't gain much traction. However, he believes Wednesday's meeting showed there is more support for education reform now, and this is a first step in addressing the concerns of South Carolina's teachers.
The "Teacher Bill of Rights Draft" outlines the "inalienable rights" conferred upon all public school teachers in SC.
All certified public school teachers in South Carolina have a right to:
1.Have his or her professional judgement and discretion respected by school and district officials as attends to disciplinary action or instructional decisions in the classroom in accordance with school and district policy.
2.Teach free from fear of frivolous lawsuits, including the right to qualified immunity and to a legal defense, and to indemnification by the employing school board for actions taken int he performance of duties of the teacher's employment.
3.Take appropriate disciplinary measures, including the removal of persistently disruptive students, in accordance with school and district policy to facilitate a learning environment built upon a mutual culture of respect between teacher and assigned students.
4.Work in a safe, secure, and orderly environment that is conducive to learning and free from recognized dangers, hazards, or threats that are causing or likely to cause serious or disability.
5.An unencumbered daily planning time, equal to no less of one quarter of their assigned instructional time, free from meetings, duties, or requirements in compatible with the effective planning of instruction.
6. A salary commensurate with that of the recognized southeast average salary of public school teachers with similar years experience, educational degrees, and certification.
7. Be free of excessive and burdensome paperwork related to disciplinary actions, state or district evaluation procedures, and other administrative inquiries that prevent fulfillment of the teacher's primary directive to implement effective instruction for their students.
8. Additional compensation for work time required above and beyond stated contracted days and established work day parameters for duties aligned with their responsibilities as teachers.
9. As a beginning teacher to receive leadership and support from school and district personnel, including the assignment of a qualified mentor who commits to helping him or her become a competent, confident professional in the classroom and offers support and assistance as needed to meet performance standards and professional expectations.
10. To legal recourse should schools or school districts establish policies or implement standard expectations of behavior that prevent teachers from exercising the rights stated herein.
“We’ve got to not only let teachers teach, we’ve got to also cover the teacher’s behind and make sure they can teach the proper way and not be scared to teach. And thirdly, is properly fund it,” Wooten said. “I think if we have a list of needs and wants and the way it should work...you can’t get to your goal if you don’t know what your goal is. If you don’t know where you’re going, you’re never going to get there. So, this is where we’re going, and I think that we’re on the right track to get there.”