Many teachers to get daily break, planning period for first time this school year
COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - When thousands of South Carolina teachers return soon, they will have new students, maybe a new classroom, and for many of them, a guaranteed daily break for the first time.
It’s something for which teachers have been pleading for years, and it comes a year after state lawmakers voted to grant that request.
The governor actually signed South Carolina’s unencumbered time bill into law in 2022, but in the legislation, the General Assembly gave school districts a year to figure out how they will implement the new requirement.
That year is up, and one elementary school teacher said the change it brings is a huge win for educators.
“It’s so good for us because this is an opportunity for elementary teachers to have this moment for us to have a break,” Valente Gibson, a third-grade teacher in Richland School District 2, said.
Gibson loves just about everything about elementary school as he heads into his seventh year of teaching students that age.
“I really appreciate the love and the foundation we set within the elementary,” he said.
But one aspect he hasn’t quite loved in his six years in the classroom is how hard it could be to find time to squeeze in a break.
“In elementary, you know, from the time we set foot from morning duty to after-school duty, we’re usually supervising or instructing students,” Gibson said.
At times, that has even meant having to ask administrators to watch his class if he had to use the restroom.
“Some days, it’s close to dismissal and I’m trying to figure out why I’m so hungry, and I’m like, ‘Oh yeah, I definitely didn’t get to do my lunch today,’” Gibson said.
But for him and thousands of other teachers across South Carolina, that’s about to change when they get back to the classroom soon.
This will be the first school year that the new law is in place, guaranteeing all elementary and special education teachers in South Carolina public schools get 30 minutes of unencumbered time every day.
It’s up to districts to determine what that will look like, whether it’s a lunch break, a planning period, or even dividing the required 30 minutes into multiple, smaller breaks, which likely would not be popular with teachers.
The law requires teachers not be responsible for directly supervising students during that time.
“If implemented correctly by districts, this is a game-changer,” Patrick Kelly of the Palmetto State Teachers Association said.
It’s the type of change South Carolina needs to make in the face of a teacher shortage that has worsened annually for the last several years, Kelly said.
“This is part and parcel of improving working conditions, which is key to being able to better retain our teaching talent in South Carolina,” he said. “It gives teachers just a moment to catch their breath and to be on par with other professions.”
This new requirement does not apply to middle and high school teachers.
The Palmetto State Teachers Association said these teachers are far more likely to already have planning periods built into their days.
But Kelly said an expansion of this new law they would like to see is dedicated planning time for teachers to collaborate with each other, which would allow them to work together to design lessons and assessments and evaluate student progress.
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