Monday, May 7, 2018

South Carolina's Teacher Walkout

South Carolina is currently making a point that I've tried to make elsewhere-- the teacher walkouts in Arizona and Colorado and Kentucky and West Virginia [and Oklahoma] and (soon) North Carolina are not new. There's been a teacher walkout going on for a decade. But since the teachers haven't been walking out al at once, we've been calling it a shortage instead.

The State in Columbia, South Carolina is running a series of articles (also being run in several other McClatchy newspapers)* about the slow motion walkout.

Jamie Self has been on this beat for a while with the long-running series Classrooms in Crisis, and though it will take you a while to work through all of the reporting, it's well worth your time for the mixture of well-drawn detail and sense of the bigger picture. Much of this is familiar-- here's the South Carolina Teacher of the Year earning a second paycheck by stocking shelves at Sears (uh-oh). Here's a discussion of how measures to end the teacher shortage will cost money that state leaders don't want to pay. And for folks caught up in new discussions of how to discipline- or not-- students, here's a look at how teacher safety plays its part in the teacher "shortage."

South Carolina has also been involved in a trend that I first noticed being reported four years ago-- the outsourcing of teaching jobs. Recruitment was targeting Filipino teachers back then, but Self and Cody Dulaney report that South Carolina is now searching internationally, bringing in people who have no US passport and no teaching degree to take SC teaching jobs. International hires now make up 7% of the teaching force, part of a "cultural exchange," and not permanent hires. In addition to the Philippines, SC is drawing from Jamaica and India. That 7% statewide means that individual districts have substantial numbers. Hampton school district is employing 21 international teachers-- that's 36% of its teaching staff. Williamsburg has 79 international teachers.

But when we turn to big-picture stories like "Why SC teachers are leaving in record numbers," what's striking is that the problems listed are exactly the same issues that have led to teacher strikes in other states

"They're so tied up and worried about all the paperwork that needs to be done that they're unable to actually do the job that they applied for, which is educating children," said Natasha Jefferson, a Charleston mom worried about the education her eighth-grader is receiving. Two of his classes are taught by a rotating cast of substitute teachers.

Jennifer Garrett of the Center for Educator Recruitment, Retention and Advancement has some thoughts about the attempt to draw teachers from other states and countries:

We're not going to recruit ourselves out of this teacher shortage. Statistically, it's not possible to fill the gaps.

Self interviewed over three dozen current and former educators. Many asked not to be named, which all by itself tells you something about the atmosphere in SC schools. All of the complaints are familiar.

Pay too low to support a family.

Emphasis on the standardized test.

Endless meetings about administrivia and test prep, rather than a chance to work on the actual work.

The story of Theresa Schlosser includes an out-of-control first grader that she could not help, but that was not the main reason she left teaching:

An administrator saying, "'Don't worry, you'll teach them how to pass the test.,'" pushed her over her limit one day, she said.

"I had to go out in the hall and cry," Schlosser said, who is now a stay-at-home mom. "I didn't sign up for this, to teach somebody to pass a test."

South Carolina actually has a program that allows retirees to be pulled back into the classroom while still benefitting from their pension-- but that program ends soon, and a $10K limit on what retirees can earn will push many of them back out again.

And running through all the complaints, the refrain that "we are set up for failure" and a sense of powerlessness. Says Caleb Surface, who dropped out of the teaching pipeline while still in college. "Being able to enact change in the education system is not a task remotely accessible inside the classroom."

Low pay. Low benefits. Lack of power. Lack of resources. A focus on things other than actually doing the work of educating students. And a messy charter system that is not getting results, but is still draining money from the public system.

South Carolina lost almost 7,000 teachers last year. 1 in 20 SC teachers left the profession entirely. Teachers in the college pipeline have dropped by 30% in four years.

These are all the same factors that teachers are talking about in states with teacher strikes, but there are two critical differences. Because South Carolina's teachers are leaving one at a time-- or just seeking another career to begin with-- they aren't getting the same kind of attention as teachers in Arizona or West Virginia. The other difference is the bigger problem-- when the teachers of Arizona and West Virginia walked out, they did so with an announced willingness to come back to the classroom. But the exiting teachers of South Carolina are leaving, one by one, for good.

In short, legislators in states like South Carolina may consider themselves lucky that they aren't facing a full-out strike, but they are mistaken. Slow motion walkouts are harder to fix, easier to ignore, and permanent. States like South Carolina would be lucky to have a "real" strike, because it would force them to deal with the issues behind their fake teacher shortage. As it is, unless some leaders really step up, they will watch their education system bleed to death one drop at a time.

*I originally ran across the series in the News&Observer, but failed to notice that Self and Dulaney are connected to The State. This has been edited to correct my original mistake.


  1. Dawn Sandstedt CopperMay 7, 2018 at 10:27 PM

    Don't forget Oklahoma. Our teachers walked out and went to the capital in huge numbers, for almost 2 weeks last month. We are the #2 lowest paid state for teachers. This is an embarrassment.

  2. "Being able to enact change in the education system is not a task remotely accessible inside the classroom." I wish I had known this when I left higher ed and a gig advising teachers, in order to see from the inside what was happening in the schools and try to do something about it, only to be shocked and caught up in the downward-spiraling sick morass of abusive anti-teaching and disorganization. The more I persevered, the worse it got, and by the time the impossibility became clear, I was so burned out and sick that I had to retire. One example during my tenure in k12 was that I managed to bring in a large federal grant to restructure one school and then the district in a positive and proven way with obvious benefits for the students. There was foot-dragging and distortion of the project from the beginning, and as soon as the big money stopped coming in, they reverted to even worse anti-teaching and -leaning (and charters). When you are inside the downward spiral and working like crazy to go up, it's difficult to see the whole picture. I did finally figure out what was going on, but it was too late for both me and especially for all the students being irreparably harmed. Advice to pedagogically knowledgeable people who want to benefit the kids: Beware the black hole.

  3. Gates, Walton and Kochs want teachers to fail so that they can control the curriculum and the workforce. Read the 1% Solution. And speak up for real learning before it's too late.

  4. Peter,
    The original newspaper to publish this series was The State from Columbia SC. Credit should be given to the publication that devoted the resources for some investigative reporting, which is all-too-rare in today's environment for local papers.

    1. Thanks. Apparently the whole family of McClatchy papers have been running the pieces, but I failed to notice that the reporters have @state email addresses. Thanks for bringing that to my attention.

  5. There are lots of reasons to be concerned about education in our state. 1) is the funding: There is a large discrepancy of funding per pupil. This document outlines in detail. p 19 shows a $560 dollar deficit between the funded amount per student and the cost of education per student. And this is only an average. Rural districts with less local tax revenue have a wider gap since funding replies on 30% of its funding from local taxes. 2) Is teacher and staff pay: I recently saw a hiring sign at QT which pays comparable to my current salary with a Master's degree and experience teaching. AND there are so many other factors of concern such as the pay cap on retirement aged teachers who are now leaving SC (with all their years' experience) to teach in other states. And leaders in charge "taking over" low performing school districts. What would you expect if you don't give districts enough funding to operate? SC is suffering a huge teacher shortage and it will only get worse if no changes are made. We must invest in our children. They are the future!

    1. Hey Kimberly,
      I spent 28 years of my 34 years of teaching in SC before my wife wanted to quit to move back to Huntington WV to be close to her 4 sisters. I taught at Allendale-Fairfax HS, Cardinal Newman HS, Spring Valley HS & Dutch Fork HS until I got a job offer in SW GA at Deerfield-Windsor for my last 6 years. I truly miss the beautiful state of SC where we raised our daughters and made some very close friends. I kinda took a pay cut to move to GA, but the atmosphere the last 2 years at Dutch Fork under (I will name the principal if allowed) turned into a buncha pointless meetings after school for SLiC, seeing a great soccer coach (and good science teacher) let go after a minor practice violation, and a great earth science teacher fired for absolute bullshit.

      For those who are not familiar, Spring Valley & Dutch Fork are in two of the most reputable districts in SC, Richland 2 and Lexington-Richland 5. Even those districts are shedding teachers and are having trouble filling positions.

  6. These days districts are too afraid of parents and lawsuits to discipline even students with criminal behavior. Those students then run the classrooms and learning is all but impossible.
    An Insider

    1. I totally agree!!

      Lawyers have ruined public education.

    2. Yep, I was assaulted 6 times in a 4th grade class last year. Of course I could not defend myself, or I'd lose my job . The kids were never removed from my room, 2 of 3 were not suspended, 1 ginormous girl, assaulted me 3 of the 6 times, and none of the behavioral referrals were even addressed, in any class, in the entire school, until after I met with our superintendent in January. He had no idea I was even assaulted. I am dealing with PTSD and had a near death experience, on the admin hall, in the nurses doorway in August. I informed my principal and she ignored me. She is still employed as a principal of my former school.

  7. 23 years experience in High School education. Many years ago we begged and encouraged parents to get involved....guess what? They took over! 50 grade floors, 60 is passing, and every kid knows discipline is a joke. Helicopter parents threaten and harrass while Admin pays lip service to keep everyone happy. Student grades are over-inflated to the point they think they're at a genius IQ. Test, test, test to prove we're preparing them when in fact the opposite is true. They can no longer think, read, or comprehend.....just ask google! BUT WHAT IF GOOGLE IS WRONG? There's a thought.