MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WBTW) — This school year, more students may need more one-on-one attention to catch up, but South Carolina districts are having trouble retaining and hiring new teachers.
In fact, hundreds of educators in the state left their jobs mid year. One of those teachers is Tiffany Dorris of Summerville.
“My friends who I haven’t seen in awhile want to know what I’ve done,” Dorris said. “You seem so light and free. What’s going on? What are you doing differently? and I tell them I left teaching.”
Dorris left teaching at Dorchester District Two mid year after 14 years in the profession.
“You love this job, you love what you do, you have a passion for it,” she said. “Even though everyday it’s just more burdens and more stress and you’re looking for the light at the end of the tunnel. But the light never comes and things never get better.”
Dorris said although she worked for a strong school district, the long hours, growing class sizes, working through weekends and low pay were wearing her down.
But the nasty comments toward teachers online during the pandemic pushed her over the edge.
“One parent made a comment that we should just pull all of our kids out of school and then these teachers wouldn’t have a job and then what will they do,” Dorris said. “I don’t even know how to explain how it made me feel.”
Now, Dorris feels respected at a new remote job, where she earns more money as an instructional designer.
677 teachers left their jobs in South Carolina between October and February, according to the South Carolina Center for Educator Recruitment, Retention, and Advancement. In Horry County Schools, 77 teachers did not re-sign their employment contracts for the upcoming year, which was up from 33 the year before.
“We’re very concerned that at a state level, we don’t really see much concern,” SC for Ed board member Nicole Walker said of the remaining openings heading into the school year.
Fewer teachers can mean fewer electives and larger class sizes, advocates warn. Larger class sizes can lead to more work and less planning time.
“We just added COVID on top of what our teachers were already doing,” President of South Carolina Education Association Sherry East said. “When there’s the teacher shortage, they don’t have that time built into their day to do any of the extra stuff that’s not teaching– the grading, the calling parents, the reviewing what their lessons are going to be for the next day.”
Aside from the pandemic, East worries that young people are less drawn to the job.
At Coker University in Hartsville, there were 149 education majors in 2014. In 2020, there were 41.
Meanwhile, districts across the region have been working all summer to recruit new teachers.
Horry County Schools has been using in-person and virtual tactics to find people for open positions.
“We are still working on filling our teacher vacancies, of course,” Chief Human Resources Office for HCS Mary Anderson said at a recent job fair. “But we always have a contingency plan. There may be situations where we have to start with a long term sub.”
Some districts are offering bonuses to recruit and retain.
“Money is not the beginning or the end,” Marlboro County superintendent Dr. Gregory McCord said. “It does help but we want to remain competitive as much as we can.”
The state Department of Education said progress was made this year with pay increases.
“We’re hopeful that more in terms of pay raises can be done on the state level,” SCDE spokesperson Ryan Brown said.
Although Tiffany Dorris said improving funding mechanisms is critical, for her, it’s about more than just money.
“There needs to be more support,” she said. “There needs to be more coaching. There needs to be less high stakes testing. Less focus on the end result and more focus on nurturing teachers.”
There are a number of bills in the statehouse that could impact teachers in the Palmetto State. That includes a bill that would allow schools to hire non-certified teachers and another that would require daily planning time.