SC lost 170 teachers a month for 4 months, but there are fewer open teaching jobs. Here’s why.

Lowcountry, Pee Dee regions have most open positions
Updated: Mar. 1, 2021 at 6:20 PM EST
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - South Carolina lost about 170 each month for the past four months, according to new research from the Center for Educator Retention and Recruitment.

Teachers say they aren’t just leaving because of the pandemic: they say they reached their breaking point.

There are approximately 515 open positions, which is an actually an improvement from the start of the school year. That could be because of a number of reasons. Teachers and researchers behind the report say there could be fewer open positions because spots are filled, classrooms are combined, vacancies being filled quickly, or substitute teachers started filling in full time.

Data shows South Carolina lost nearly 700 teachers since October, but a drop in the number of...
Data shows South Carolina lost nearly 700 teachers since October, but a drop in the number of open positions since then.(Gray News)

“It’s not a one-to-one ratio,” said Jennifer Garrett, one of the lead researchers on this study about comparing open jobs to teachers leaving. “These districts are filling vacancies as the year goes on, as teachers are departing vacancies are occurring, [districts] are working on this all year,” Garrett added.

Garrett said her team did this study to get a better idea of what impact the pandemic had on teachers leaving but found the districts couldn’t tell them what percent of departures were related to COVID-19.

She said the final numbers couldn’t give her a clear picture of what’s happening on the ground in classrooms in part because a similar study of mid-year departures has never been done to compare this to, so she encourages the community to take them at face value.

However, she said more than 500 open jobs and almost 700 teachers who have left the classroom isn’t a positive sign for South Carolina’s larger teacher shortage.

Other experts add we need to focus on the fact the open positions and departures are happening and where they’re being reported.

New data from the University of South Carolina shows the Lowcountry and Pee Dee regions have more than twice the vacancies as the Midlands. The Upstate has relatively fewer open spots.

The Lowcountry and Pee Dee regions of the state show the highest percentage of teacher vacancies.
The Lowcountry and Pee Dee regions of the state show the highest percentage of teacher vacancies.(Gray News)

Tommy Hodges, UofSC’s executive associate dean for faculty and academic affairs, says he thinks the data says the issue needs to be addressed at the state level.

“We need policy-level decisions,” Hodges says. “One of those is knowing that it is not uniform. Know that it occurs in the pocket that tells us that we can specifically allocate funds to specific areas to address teacher shortages.”

Teachers who left say between the switching from teaching students in-person to virtual, helping kids learn and cope with the pandemic, providing tech support and feeling ignored by lawmakers or administrators when they asked for more resources, it became too much.

“When it became impossible to do the teaching part the way I love to do it, it really opened my eyes to how little teachers can be respected sometimes and how teachers can be valued,” former English teacher Ashley Walker said. “I had 14-year-olds looking at me and saying you are doing the right thing and we are proud of you.”

Walker now works for an education nonprofit now and said she is open to going back to teaching if she thinks issues like pay increases and building renovations get addressed.

“It was like whiplash from teachers are heroes to teachers are selfish,” she said of public perception of teachers over the past year.

Walker says more of her friends plan to leave the field at the end of this year for similar reasons.

Researchers say the areas hit hardest by the vacancies are math and special education.

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