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Teachers concerned about worsening teacher shortage, new challenges ahead of upcoming school year

Published: Jul. 9, 2021 at 7:44 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - While the CDC is recommending schools prioritize in-person learning this fall, some educators are concerned there will not be enough teachers to fill the classrooms.

While South Carolina has been facing a teacher shortage for a few years, educators worry the pandemic exacerbated the problems that have pushed teachers out in the past.

“They made it through until June, they took their kids through the worst year ever, through COVID, but they just said they’d had enough,” SC Education Association President Sherry East said.

East explained that for four months in the middle of the school year, 170 teachers left their jobs a month, according to a CERRA report.

She said that not only are teachers tired from teaching virtually and in-person, trying to keep students caught up during a pandemic, and working longer hours, they are also feeling disrespected at times.

University of South Carolina interim dean of education Tommy Hodges has been looking into the reasons teachers in the Palmetto State are leaving their classroom.

According to preliminary data, he said that about half of the time teachers are making lateral moves and taking positions at other schools. However, some leave the industry altogether because of working conditions.

Hodges said an early look at the survey results he received from departing teachers shows many left because they felt a lack of control over what they were doing in their own classrooms.

“But closely behind that was frustrations with school boards and frustrations with the broader community,” Hodges said.

East wasn’t surprised by that and said teachers have found themselves in the middle of a lot of tense arguments over the past year and a half.

“You had the anti-mask parents saying, ‘How dare you move my child and treat them any differently because they don’t want to wear a mask?’ Then you had the pro-mask parents that were saying, ‘Please move my child. I don’t want my child around children that aren’t wearing masks. So as the teacher you’re caught in the middle of two sets of parents,’” East said.

Educators said they welcome and encourage parents and community input into their student’s education, but at the end of the day they want to be seen as the experts.

“Public school is meant to serve the public. But we are also highly qualified professionals, multiple grades, multiple certifications, ongoing study, ongoing research,” said 2020-2021 SC Teacher of the Year Sarah Gams.

And Gams said that trust will be especially important going into a school year that will bring up a whole host of other challenges like student mental health and potential financial instability at home because of the pandemic.

She is encouraged by the funding districts are receiving from federal and state lawmakers, but said the teacher shortage may feel more severe because of all the new jobs that funding created.

“There’s interventionist, psychologist, literacy coaches, math coaches...So it’s not just that we had, we already had a shortage. And now we actually need more professionals to address the unfinished learning of our students so that we can make sure we’re moving forward academically and getting their college and career ready,” she said.

Gams said if lawmakers want to reverse this trend they need to continue to listen to teachers and the reasons they are choosing other professions.

Palmetto State Teacher Association Director of Government Affairs, Patrick Kelly, agreed with Gams.

“I believe our state’s teaching shortage crisis is the most significant challenge to efforts to help each child reach their academic potential, " Kelly said.  “While the General Assembly took an important step by raising teacher salaries, the growing lack of respect for the teaching profession- combined with factors like growing class sizes and insufficient planning time- is likely to continue to drive great teachers out of the classroom and discourage our state’s top talent from entering the profession.”

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