Pandemic exposes existing teaching problems

VIDEO: Pandemic exposes existing teaching problems

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Teachers continue to be in high demand as school districts around the state hit the halfway mark of the 2020-2021 year. A new study finds teacher vacancies are up by 26 percent from the same time last year.

The coronavirus is inevitably responsible for playing a role in the shortfall.

Jody Stallings is the director of the Charleston Teacher Alliance and a middle school teacher. He says shifting modalities has increased the workload and strain on educators.

“It has been a very stressful year,” Stallings said. “Having to teach kids in-person and virtually at the same time has been hard and really no one knows how to do it. There’s no model for it. We’re kind of making it up as we go along. It’s a very stressful environment.”

However, Stallings said the pandemic cannot be blamed for everything. He says there were problems before the pandemic that caused people to abandon the profession. Job postings on the Charleston County School District website show about 30 teaching positions currently open.

“We were having problems filling vacancies even before and that is related to a lot of issues. Pay is one of those issues. . . what the pandemic has done is just open all the cracks in the foundation and really exposed where the weaknesses are,” Stallings said. “Take parental support for example, which has always been a concern for teachers. . . this has just opened that up in enormous ways. . . we are not just seeing kids that are struggling, we are seeing kids that are cratering.”

CTA just finished surveying 750 teachers in CCSD regarding the challenges presented this year. The full results have not been released just yet, but Stallings says there are some big takeaways that surprised him. He says the data shows teachers overwhelmingly support face-to-face learning and that, generally speaking, principals and administrators are supportive of teaching staff.

“Districts have done everything they can to try and support teachers, it’s just that nobody has ever done this before. There’s only so much support you can give somebody when your principal doesn’t know how to deal with it, you don’t know how to deal with it, the district support staff doesn’t know how to deal with it,” Stallings said. “I think there is the want to support, the will to support and the resources to support us, it’s just that no one really knows exactly how to do that.”

The challenges of 2020 are not unique to the state’s second largest school district. Rural districts are also coping with the fatigue of teaching in a pandemic.

Bert Burch is a high school teacher at Wade Hampton High School in Hampton County. He has been teaching for more than 30 years. Burch says smaller schools may have some natural insulation to teacher fall off.

“The high school I teach at is unique in that half of the faculty went to school there, so they are teaching at their home school,” Burch said. “Those who are still in the profession, got into it because of the sheer joy of teaching way back when.”

Burch says one of the hardest parts about teaching this year has been keeping up with kids he never sees.

“I can tell with the face-to-face kids what their strengths and weaknesses are. That’s not so with the virtual kids,” Burch said. “I never really had a chance to get to know any of these new 9th graders online because I haven’t ever met them.”

Eventually, more teachers will be needed. Burch says the district will need to help teachers feel the value of their craft even more.

“For those people who are thinking about getting into it, it’s going to be rough sometimes and it’s not going to always be the way you pictured it to be when you were in college, but you will make a positive impact on somebody’s life,” Burch said.

Back in Charleston, Stallings says recruiting and retaining teachers is going to be a challenge unless the district addresses three things.

“We have to find a way to get parents engaged,” Stallings said. “We have to find a way to allow teachers to be creative. We can’t go into a school year with a one-size-fits all approach. We need smaller class sizes.”

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