Report gives insight into reasons SC teachers are leaving their jobs

Published: Oct. 11, 2021 at 5:01 PM EDT|Updated: Oct. 11, 2021 at 9:48 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - Newly released results from a survey of South Carolina teachers found the pandemic is worsening their frustration and discouragement and is contributing to some of them quitting their jobs.

A report from SC-TEACHER, a group studying teacher recruitment and retention, compiled results of teacher exit surveys to determine why some 6,000 South Carolina teachers left their jobs.

That exodus of teachers continued a teacher shortage that preceded the COVID-19 pandemic.

One of the big findings is that while teachers are leaving their jobs, they are not necessarily leaving the teaching profession. About half of those who took the survey at the end of the last school year say they took another teaching job in the state. The other half left for another profession or to retire.

More than 220 teachers took the exit survey as they were leaving their jobs in five school districts in the Midlands. University of South Carolina College of Education Interim Dean Dr. Tommy Hodges said presented the findings to members of the Education Oversight Committee on Monday.

“What we notice is, there’s a whole lot of lateral movement going on inside the system from one district to another, really about half,” Hodges told the committee. “It’s going to be about 48%, that are moving from one spot to another if we assume that these five districts are representative of the state as a whole.”

“Right now, it’s a teacher’s market,” South Carolina Education Association President Sherry East said. “So you can shop around to look for class size or better classes or better retirement.”

East says she wasn’t surprised by the results.

Teachers most frequently said that moving or wanting a job more conveniently located was their single-most important reason for leaving their jobs, with 22% naming that reason. That was followed by retirement (15%) and dissatisfaction with their school administration (14%).

“The things that we were hearing were working conditions, that children were, that teachers were being assaulted, verbally, physically assaulted, and nothing was happening to them, so the discipline was out of control in the classroom,” East said. “There are too many things that teachers are asked to do. You cannot possibly get your job done during school because they take all your breaks.”

The survey also asked teachers for reasons they were leaving specifically related to the pandemic. Nearly 40% of them said a lack of support from their local school board was very or extremely important to their decision to leave. Not far behind, 38% cited concerns about their effectiveness in reaching all students they are teaching, and 36% named a lack of support from the broader community.

“About COVID, it exacerbated some frustrations that were already there,” Hodges said. “You’re already looking at teachers that were maybe a little bit burned out, and so we see the emotional burnout of teachers really being exacerbated by COVID.”

That survey also asked teachers about emotional distress on the job. More than half the teachers who responded said that all or most of the time, they felt used up by the end of the day or emotionally drained by their work.

The survey also compared the results of teachers with experience of five years or fewer and those with more than five. It found those with more experience were more likely to note concerns about their health and safety as a reason for quitting. But those with less experience were more likely to say they felt emotional distress on the job.

The group that administered the survey says results come from a variety of school districts including large and small districts, as well as those in rural and urban areas.

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