South Carolina Among States Looking to Micro-Credentials to Reduce Teacher Turnover

Recently, South Carolina State Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman said, “If we are truly committed to ensuring every South Carolina classroom is led by a high-quality teacher, we must act now to address our growing teacher shortage.”

Superintendent Spearman – a member of the newly formed Micro-Credentials Partnership of States – is correct. South Carolina and states across the country, including my home state of North Carolina, must act now to ensure all students have high-quality, effective teachers in their classrooms.

In SC, classrooms lose between 5,000 to 7,000 teachers yearly, while only about 2,000 new teachers graduate from the state’s teaching programs every year. And South Carolina is not alone – while the numbers vary by state, most states are facing a massive teacher shortage that is systematically impacting students, schools, education leaders, and the field of education.

Like professionals in any other industry, teachers want opportunities to grow and advance their careers, along with recognition and rewards for excellence in the classroom. Historically, advancement and better pay for teachers have meant leaving the classroom and going into non-teaching jobs or administration. But by and large, teachers want to teach students and stay in the classroom.

I firmly believe micro-credentials could be a potential strategy for keeping teachers in the classroom and in the field, ensuring every student has a high-quality, effective teacher.

A micro-credential allows teachers to show mastery of a job-embedded, discrete skill or competency they have demonstrated through the submission of evidence assessed via defined evaluation criteria. When embedded into a comprehensive professional learning system, micro-credentials have the capacity to assess and recognize the acquisition of a teacher’s skills, knowledge, and competencies so he or she can advance in their career and be acknowledged and rewarded as a professional across schools and districts nationwide.

However, because micro-credentials are relatively new to education, states need a consistent definition, standards, and impact data to help them (and micro-credential users) vet and determine the quality of the micro-credentials.

And for micro-credentials to be meaningful for teacher development, they need to be portable, aligned with effective professional development, and allow teachers to receive credit for them across districts and states. In addition, teachers must be provided with some level of compensation and recognition for acquiring the additional skills and knowledge they need to make them more effective teachers for student success.

That’s why a new partnership of four states – Arkansas, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Wyoming – is working together to develop consistent quality assurance standards for competency-based micro-credentials that promote, and are integrated with, a high-quality system of educator professional learning that recognizes educator professional growth and advancement.

South Carolina has established a model for quality assurance standards for micro-credentials through the development of mCrED.

This process uniquely marries best practices to state teaching standards alongside priorities for leadership, equity, literacy, and other areas of focus.

Individually, each of our partner states brings experience and insight into their different approaches to micro-credentials. In South Carolina, the state Department of Education and State Board have included micro-credentials in alternative teacher prep programs at the University of South Carolina as well as through the new initial certification options. I particularly admire the SC Legislature and governor because of their support in funding SC-TEACHER to study the impact of teacher recruitment, preparation, and retention policies and practices on teacher effectiveness in South Carolina.

Together, the Micro-Credentials Partnership of States will build off of work started in North Carolina in 2019, when digiLEARN – the nonprofit I founded to focus on innovation in education – and the North Carolina State Board of Education led the North Carolina Partnership for Micro-credentials. The NC Partnership for Micro-Credentials, which included RTI International and New America, investigated the use of micro-credentials as a tool for teacher retention and development in North Carolina and other states.

Our work was based on the premise that educator micro-credentials for teachers could be a potential strategy for ensuring that every student has a high-quality, effective teacher.

Through our work in North Carolina, we identified key issues to effectively utilize micro-credentials for teacher retention, development, and career advancement that are applicable to other states. Now, we are expanding the work together with our partners in the Micro-Credentials Partnership of States, which includes the University of South Carolina and the South Carolina Department of Education. The Micro-credentials Partnership of States will produce recommendations for how micro-credentials can be used to improve how teachers are developed, recognized, and rewarded across the country. Ultimately, these recommendations will lead to policies and practices that influence state-level systematic improvements in the educator human capital ecosystem, including recruitment, credentialing, professional development, and retention.

Micro-credentials can be a valuable tool for teacher professional learning. They’re flexible with regard to when and how teachers can take advantage of them; they’re personalized to individual teacher needs, just like personalized learning for students; and they create professional opportunities for advancement IF they are a part of the state-recognized system of quality professional learning.

But we did identify some challenges in our NC work that our multi-state partnership is working to address.

The first challenge is creating that universal definition. Another challenge is the absence of consistent quality standards for micro-credentials. Districts and schools are granting all kinds of micro-credentials, but there is little known about the rigor and impact of micro-credentials on teacher practice and student learning. Some of that is because micro-credentials are relatively new. But some of it is because of the absence of consistent quality standards for micro-credentials. States will need to address consistency to have the most positive impact.

Micro-credentials are competency-based, while other professional learning is accrual of time. These are fundamentally different ideas. There’s a challenge for states to determine how to acknowledge competence when they currently recognize seat time or CEUs. Should we abandon CEUs in favor of competency-based learning through micro-credentials, or should we expand the professional learning system to include both micro-credentials and CEUs? For NC, we settled on both — a system that integrates micro-credentials into its professional learning system so there is portability across districts as well as compensation or reward.

Another challenge is deciding whether all teachers should participate in micro-credentials or whether we should target a specific group. After much discussion, we decided experienced teachers should be the first target, not beginning teachers. Beginning teachers are just learning how to teach and have many induction requirements to get their license, while experienced teachers have the skill set to work independently or more autonomously on micro-credentials. This is also consistent with the thinking behind offering micro-credentials as a retention strategy for increased recognition and compensation to stay in the classroom and profession. Data shows that experienced teachers tend to leave after eight to ten years.

Finally, we need more data that ties micro-credentials for teachers to improved student outcomes. We don’t have it yet because micro-credentials are so new. Determining how to track this data will be incredibly important as states explore incorporating micro-credentials into their teacher-learning systems.

I am excited and honored to work with my colleagues in South Carolina, Arkansas, and Wyoming as we work to integrate micro-credentials into systems of professional learning for all teachers so that teachers can advance in their careers and be acknowledged and rewarded as professionals across schools, districts, and the country.

I encourage you to learn more about our work at

Results for the South Carolina Teacher Exit Survey from the 2021-2022 Pilot Administration

Director Tommy Hodges recently spoke with WIS-TV in Columbia about the results of our 2021-2022 teacher exit survey and the teacher retention challenge in SC. Click to watch the full story.

Personalized Professional Learning: The Parachute Leaders Need

Imagine you’re preparing to jump out of an airplane, and your instructor informs you your parachute may not work. Can you imagine yourself standing in the doorway of an aircraft waiting for your turn to jump? Do you risk it all and jump? Or do you assess the situation and determine what adjustments are necessary?

As educators, we troubleshoot daily and have to make quick and strategic decisions that impact a child’s education. We are also working to empower teachers and students. We fill their parachutes to prepare them for their life journeys. We want our students to feel confident when they are standing at a crossroad. We want our students to jump and pursue their dreams. Our hope as educators is that we have poured into them and packed their parachute with the skills that are needed. 

Despite all of this work, it is easy to forget that personalized professional development is necessary if you are going to be able to continue to pack your own parachute so you can help others.

During the global pandemic, I was invited to join the Education Leaders Experience (ELE). A colleague, delighted with her experience, recommended the program. I was immediately impressed with the level of enthusiasm and engagement that the presenters conveyed through our virtual platform. Little did I know how much the ELE experience would end up packing my parachute.

Initially, I became a little alarmed when I learned that I had to complete a micro-credential by the end of the cohort. After all, my colleague never mentioned homework! I didn’t know what a micro-credential was or how it would benefit me. Nevertheless, I forged ahead, and after looking at my choices, I took the approach to work smarter and not harder. I selected Managing Change because I had experience leading two different schools through two unique changes. The essential method for this micro-credential was to create an Innovation Creation Map, which helps teacher leaders successfully plan and communicate a difference in a program. As I prepared for this “one more thing to do,” I did not yet realize that this activity was a chance to pack my parachute so I could continue to pour into others.

To prepare for this micro-credential, I spent time reflecting on the changes I had to manage that led me to my current position. The first change was my leap into the field of education. Educators are not new to the challenges that we are facing today. Even in 1999, South Carolina was dealing with a shortage of classroom teachers. I became aware of this shortage because I had just decided to attend Columbia College to determine how to add to my bachelor’s degree in English. I wanted to figure out how I would be able to become a teacher. During my meeting at Columbia College, I discovered that the most direct pathway to the classroom would be to go to the SC State Department of Education and meet with an education associate in the Critical Needs office. That meeting was life-changing — the first tool placed in my parachute pack. During this meeting, I learned that I met the requirements to begin my career as an English teacher. 

I had the opportunity to work with a mentor who helped pack my parachute by providing me with experiences outside the classroom and sparked my interest in school administration. During those years, I also poured into my students and packed their parachutes as I prepared them for their chosen post-secondary pathway. I taught and formed lifelong relationships with students. 

Another change that I had to manage was becoming an interim middle school principal. Under my leadership, we adopted the phrase “Whatever it takes, our kids are worth it!” When I arrived on campus, the school was rated unsatisfactory, and staff retention had become a continuous revolving door. During this time, I had to lean on my ability to build strong, trusting relationships with students, teachers, and the community. We improved our school report card from a growth rating of at-risk to average. The percentage of teachers returning was 83.1 percent, a significant improvement in teacher retention during my tenure. While we made improvements at Newberry Middle School, I continued to fill the parachutes of my students and teachers. During this time, I had the opportunity to mentor new teachers. I strategically hired teachers with alternative certifications. Doing so came with some challenges but was worth the effort to continue packing the parachutes of alternatively certified teachers by providing support, professional development, and opportunities for leadership positions. 

And while I was busy packing the parachutes of my students and teachers, other  leaders were willing to pack my parachute. As my mentors poured into me, my leadership skills were sharpened, and I felt ready to take on a new challenge.

Then during the spring of 2011, the principalship at Newberry High School became vacant, and I wanted to throw my name in the hat. I was eager to return to the building where my career began and fill the parachutes of high school teachers and students. After being named principal, I had to jump right in and lead the School Improvement Grant efforts known as the “transformation of NHS” since the school had earned a three million dollar grant centered around creating a Freshman Academy. 

My time at Newberry High School was filled with wins such as improving the graduation rate from 73.5 percent in 2011 to 83.6 percent in 2014. There were consistent improvements with the SC End-of-Course exams as well. Managing this change challenged me to learn along with my new staff during a timeline that required results in three years.

After reflecting on my own professional journey, I realized I was more than prepared to complete the micro-credential on Managing Change. In addition to completing the micro-credential, I continued to have my parachute packed through my experiences with ELE. The networking opportunities were powerful, and I learned about opportunities in the Midlands that could benefit my district. My experience with ELE also allowed me to learn more about my leadership style. Often in education, we forget to do a pulse check on ourselves as leaders, and this professional development opportunity gave me the chance to do so.

Managing change is not an easy task, and setbacks are inevitable. There were many days I felt as if I were being pushed out of the airplane without a parachute!

But those setbacks forced me to rethink, reevaluate, and try again. Those setbacks reminded me that it is imperative that while you pour into your students, teachers, and principals, you have to continue to pour into yourself too. ELE was a personalized professional lifeline for me. 

By the end of the ELE experience, I had gained a better understanding of micro-credentials. I learned that micro-credentials offer a strategic process to help build leadership capacity through opportunities for reflection and growth. This process can provide helpful tools on your leadership journey. 

Ultimately, participating in ELE provided me with different perspectives on how education and the community are connected. I learned about opportunities that will benefit my students, other leaders in the district, and me.

My parachute is packed, and if I had to jump today, I would be ready.

The Education Leaders Experience (ELE) program was created by Colonial Life and is administered in partnership with the Center for Educational Partnerships at the University of South Carolina.

This story is published as part of a recent storytelling retreat hosted by CarolinaCrED housed in the University of South Carolina’s College of Education. The Center for Teaching Quality(CTQ), a CarolinaCrED partner, facilitated the retreat and provided editorial and publication support. Learn more about this work and read additional stories by following @CarolinaCrED and @teachingquality.

Possibilities and Opportunities

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”     Nelson Mandela

Starting college at the age of 17, I was unsure of what I wanted for my life, professionally or personally. I studied communications, but I wasn’t sure what kind of career I wanted to pursue when I graduated. After several small jobs in sales, in insurance, and in a restaurant, I learned about the property management business. I loved my eight years with apartment management, but after having a family, the long hours and weekend work became too much for our schedules.  I decided to stay home with my sons and regroup as far as my career was concerned.

Staying home with my boys for a couple of years was a wonderful blessing. Eventually, I wanted to start back part-time to ease into a new job and ensure childcare. Through the advice of my mother, who at the time was a Richland One Employee, I applied to be a substitute teacher.  She knew my love for children and thought it would be a good opportunity while I explored other options. I loved substitute teaching and discovered I wanted to pursue a full-time job in a school. She told me about instructional assistant positions in the district. I knew instructional assistants aided teachers in their daily needs as well as worked directly with children, and this felt like a perfect fit. I was offered and accepted a position at an elementary school. Needless to say, I fell in love with my job, the teachers, and the children.

During my time as an instructional assistant, I was able to work with multiple grade levels. I worked with small groups of students and assisted teachers in their many responsibilities. Seeing the children grow and learn was a remarkable experience, especially with those I was able to work with for more than a year. It was this experience that made me realize education was the right path for me. I wanted to further my education so that I could be more equipped to support children.

I wanted my own classroom with my own students.

In my second year as an instructional assistant, I was asked to make a bulletin board in a drab hallway whose appearance needed improving. This area would be used for small groups. I didn’t know how to make a bulletin board or what to put on it. I began thinking of things that might motivate and encourage the students with whom I would be working. I found the following quotes:  

B.B. King: “The beautiful thing about learning is nobody can take it away from you.”

Dr. Seuss: “You have brains in your head.  You have feet in your shoes.  You can steer yourself in any direction you choose.”

Vincent van Gogh: “If you hear a voice within you say ‘you cannot paint,’ then by all means paint and that voice will be silenced.”

I found myself motivated by the very quotes I used to motivate my students. I wanted to work in education for twenty more years, and I wanted to be better equipped and prepared to help students reach their potential.

I felt I had the qualities of a teacher. But unfortunately, unless I returned to college to get a degree in education, teaching didn’t feel like an option. I briefly mentioned this to my assistant principal, and she told me about a program at Columbia College called Alternative Pathways to Education Certification. That moment changed my life. The program was a perfect fit for me. It allowed me to keep my job as an instructional aide and go to school.

When considering the reality of going back to school, still working as an assistant, and being a wife and a mother, I panicked and didn’t think I could do it. I waited on pins and needles for three weeks to find out if I had been accepted into the program. Upon receiving my acceptance notification, I felt so many emotions at once: shock, excitement, and fear. The program began with a summer assessment course led by a phenomenal professor. Her leadership, ability to teach, and general disposition gave me confidence I didn’t know I had. I learned to trust in my abilities as a developing educator. Every class that followed, over the course of a year and a half, taught me how to become the kind of teacher I wanted to be. Eventually, this prepared me for a successful first year.  

If you asked me five years ago if I wanted to be a teacher, I would have answered, “No.”  It never occurred to me that this would be an attainable goal. Now that I am in my first year of teaching at age 41 I can honestly say I have found my career and my calling. If you are having similar feelings and want to pursue education, there are options for certification. I encourage you to explore the possibilities.

This story is published as part of a storytelling retreat hosted by the CarolinaCrED housed in the University of South Carolina’s College of Education. CarolinaCrED partners nominated practicing educators, administrators, and system leaders to share their stories. The Center for Teaching Quality(CTQ), a CarolinaCrED partner, facilitated the retreat and provided editorial and publication support. Learn more about this work and read additional stories by following @Carolina_CrED and @teachingquality.

The Power of Listening

It was 8:35 a.m., and Charlie’s head was already down on his desk. His long black hair covered his face, and his big brown eyes were closed. Over the last few weeks, his energetic bounce had disappeared, and his eyes had lost their spark.

Charlie had been in my classroom for several months, and this behavior was out of the ordinary. He was still meeting expectations as a student, but he was more than a student. His heart mattered to me more than his academics. I was determined to help him find his spark again. 

I’d been checking in on Charlie, making time for intentional conversations, hoping this would shed some light on his recent behavioral change. I was ready to listen. But the conversations yielded nothing, only a shy smile and a head nod that he was fine. 

Fine was not good enough.

So, I stopped talking and started watching. Sometimes, we must listen to actions, not just words. After several days, I found the common thread: his hearing aids. Sometimes shoved into a pocket of his bookbag, sometimes hidden in his desk, sometimes left at home, Charlie had stopped wearing his hearing aids. When I asked him about it, he simply told me he just didn’t want to wear them. No pain. No technical problems. Just, “I don’t like them.” So, here he sat, head down, hair covering his ears, disliking a part of himself, hoping no one would notice.

I noticed. And he mattered to me.

In my hands, I held a book—a book I hoped would build a bridge for Charlie from his heart through the academic content and into the safe space of our classroom. A bridge that would help turn “I don’t like them,” into “I’m proud of who I am.”

The book was titled Emmanuel’s Dream:The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah, written by Laurie Ann Thompson and Sean Qualls. I opened the crisp colorful pages and began to read: 

“Two healthy lungs let out a powerful cry, 

Two tiny fists opened and closed, 

But only one strong leg kicked.”

Charlie’s eyes opened. The first brick on the bridge was laid. 

“Most people thought he would be useless, or worsea curse.”

“That’s not right!” another student shouted from across the room, adding that the way you are born doesn’t contribute to your worth.

Charlie’s head turned. Another brick on the bridge was laid. This time by a friend. 

As we continued to read, we discovered that Emmanuel learned to ride a bike despite being born with only one leg.

“Being disabled does not mean being unable.” 

Charlie pushed his hair from his face. Brick. 

As Emmauel rode through the pages of the book, Charlie’s head rose off his desk. And brick by brick, the bridge between a child’s heart and a classroom space to unpack it was being built. 

“In this world, we are not perfect. We can only do our best.”

Charlie smiled. 

I closed the book and said, “In the story, Emmanuel was born with only one strong leg. That is something we can see from the outside, but not all differences are things that others can see. Let’s take a second and think of some other examples and how we, as humans, can respect, support, and accept all of our friends for who they are.”

Students from around the room piped up. 

“Sometimes I have a hard time focusing!”

“Me too!”

“I have a friend with autism.”

“Speaking different languages isn’t something you can see from the outside!”

The bridge was complete. And now, Charlie took the first steps across the bridge. “Some people have hearing impairments. Like me. And they wear hearing aids. Like mine,” he shared confidently. 

Eyes turned toward him. Heads nodded. Now, they were listening too. The bridge was widening and others were walking with Charlie. 

I circled back to my original question. “What can we all do to respect, support, and accept all of our friends for who they are?”

“We can ask each other the best ways to support each other,” a student said. 

“Yeah, because we know ourselves best!” chimed another. 

I stepped back as the conversation unfolded. 

“We all have things that make us different, but we have things in common too!”

“And we cannot make assumptions about what we think will be best for someone else.” 

“We can remember that disabilities are not inabilities, like it said in the book.” It was Charlie’s voice that carried above the rest. 

The class quieted and a friend turned to him and asked, “You mentioned your hearing aids. Tell us about that.” And in that moment, a new bridge was formeda bridge from one heart to another. 

Eventually, our conversation closed and we moved on to reading independently. I felt a small tap on my shoulder and turned to find Charlie standing before me, eyes sparkling. “Can I read it again, Miss Cameron? The book about Emmanuel. I want to read it again.”

For the rest of the day, Charlie held the book Emmanuel’s Dream in his arms, and at the end of the day, I found a sticky note inside that read,  “I can do anything I put my mind to because I matter.”

Today, the book Emmanuel’s Dream has a permanent, outward facing place on our bookshelf. Charlie, the proud owner of his own copy of Emmanuel’s Dream, wears his hearing aids every day, and he is quick to remind people that who they are is enough. I often find Charlie glancing over at the book, and I am reminded of the power of listening, the power of a book, and the power of a classroom community.

When I reflect upon my own time as a student, I am reminded of the professors at Furman University who listened to meand in this way, I was forever changed. It was when Dr. Henderson put down his briefcase to stay a little longer and listen to my story from the classroom. Or when Dr. Kelly patiently listened to my reflection about a summer tutoring student, inspiring me to be creative. 

Because they listened, I grew. 

Because they listened, I am better. 

Because they listened, I understand the power of listening. 

Because I had a teacher who listened, I became a teacher who listens. 

 As educators, we are surrounded by voices: policymakers, legislators, parents, colleagues, administrators, studentsbut whose voices do we choose to tune in to? 

We must know our content and our standards. But even more, we must prioritize the humans that sit in our classrooms and the relationships we have with them first, while we simultaneously build our teacher toolboxes.

When we create a culture of listening in our classroom, we ultimately build a generation of listeners. Because we listened, we hope they too will listen. And when they listen, they will build those bridges. Listening is an intentional choice that shows what we value. Who we value. May we have the courage to choose wisely.

This story is published as part of a storytelling retreat hosted by the CarolinaCrED housed in the University of South Carolina’s College of Education. CarolinaCrED partners nominated practicing educators, administrators, and system leaders to share their stories. The Center for Teaching Quality (CTQ), a CarolinaCrED partner, facilitated the retreat and provided editorial and publication support. Learn more about this work and read additional stories by following @Carolina_CrED and @teachingquality.

Removing Barriers, Supplying a Teacher Workforce: How South Carolina Can Support Alternative Certification Pathways

by Remona Jenkins

That teacher over there…Yes, that’s the one.

The one demonstrating strong teacher-student relationships with her students. The one with twelve years in the industry. She understands the skills needed for the workforce. 

She’s also the one whose mother is in the hospital. The one who showed up every day during the pandemic. 

Her? Yes, her. She’s not certified. She’s facing a barrier. She needs to pass Praxis, a national teacher assessment for certification.

Alternative certification works, but how do we remove barriers to traditional certification?

I am an alternatively certified teacher. 

I know and understand the barriers to certification in South Carolina for people who would like to enter the profession and actualize their dream of becoming a teacher. These include: limited access to entrance into educational programs, insufficient funds to complete a degree program, student teaching full time without a source of income, a low college GPA, and passing Praxis. Passing Praxis stands as a hurdle for many. Specifically, licensing exams have a disproportionate impact on minority teacher candidates: 62% of Black and 43% of Hispanic candidates fail the elementary Praxis test even after multiple attempts.

Some time ago, states tightened up requirements for teacher licensing. Along with numerous experts, they contend tighter regulation of teacher training programs and even more hurdles to clear on the way to certification is the only solution. Although well meaning, such submissions are not based on sound research or factual data. 

Now, faced with the impact those efforts are having on teacher diversity, and with evidence that black students benefit from having teachers who look like them, some are moving to loosen or even dispense with those requirements. 

Too often, energy, time, and money are put into ‘hoop jumping’ with nothing to show for their efforts. South Carolina policymakers have a responsibility and duty to increase, diversify, and qualify South Carolina’s educator workforce for our children. Qualifications for certification should align with proof of meaningful research-based practices for improving the educational welfare of all students.  

We are planners. 

We are proactive. 

We are problem solvers. 

We are professionals. 

But our spirit, our tenacity, our drive, our ability to overcome all things, our vision to be there and be in the moment, can be stifled, muffled, dimmed, altered, and diminished by consistent barriers.

Today's college graduates have numerous career options and opportunities. If the path into teaching is too burdensome or costly, graduates will abandon it for other professional pathways (Finn, 2001). As with traditional certification, we must streamline the process to alternative certification so future educators can begin making a difference for students, parents, the community, and the profession.

New Jersey, Massachusetts, Florida, Washington, and Colorado rank as the top states for education. These states provide professional preparation and education for would-be teachers by allowing them to work and learn simultaneously, putting into daily application what they are learning in theory (Department of Education, n.d.). The support of mentors, apprenticeships, and instructional coaching helps alternative certification-seeking candidates to be successful, ensuring program quality and constructs which align with student outcomes. The single approach of teaching while earning certification helps to mitigate economic barriers for many.

South Carolina also has strong examples of alternative certification pathways which work. CarolinaCAP, a collaborative effort among South Carolina school districts, the University of South Carolina, and the Center for Teaching Quality, provides the opportunity for paraprofessionals and industry-knowledgeable candidates to become certified through graduate level coursework, microcredentials, coaching, and collaborative inquiry. After passing Praxis, candidates may become the Teacher of Record and take the lead in their own classroom through employment. 

CarolinaCAP attracts diverse candidates who mirror the student populations they serve. Representation is critical for students (our state's future teacher pipeline).Eighty-one percent of candidates who participated in CarolinaCAP identify as Black, ranging in age from 20 to 60 years old. Eighteen percent of candidates are male (CarolinaCAP Year Two Annual Report, 2021). CarolinaCAP candidates bring a wealth of both life and professional experiences to their classroom. The program’s structure addresses the economic barrier as well. Once candidates pass Praxis and secure teacher employment, they may begin receiving a teacher salary.  

How does this translate to the person? The educators trained under alternatively certified programs, such as CarolinaCAP,  might provide some insight. Anisha is a second year teacher working in a rural district. She’s producing students who will leave second grade reading and writing with confidence. She’s also a teacher who is having challenges passing the Praxis certification exam. 

This is Anisha’s barrier.

She has attempted the exam on occasions. She has noticed, the longer she teaches, the more she feels Praxis is assessing her instructional classroom practices. Her score has increased each time.

I see myself in her, once a new teacher facing a barrier to becoming fully certified. How do I support her by removing barriers which do not align with student outcomes? Barriers which initially decreased the number of teachers in the profession? Barriers which marginalize people who have limited economic, social, or political resources?

I am connected to this work as an alternatively certified educator. The path to certification gave me the opportunity to be able to live out a dream and weave a connection with students and families for years to come. Certification gave me the final piece of being confident in growing the educational development of students. The process has led to an increase in my commitment to support new teachers, curate and create resources for educators looking to certify, and has volumized my voice and efforts in dismantling local barriers which limit access to a talent pool of other educators who are leaders, servers, community, and world changers.

The alternative route connected me with research-based practices to increase teaching knowledge. I developed a professional repertoire of resources; I watched and connected with other phenomenal practitioners. My daily practice became supporting others, clarifying processes, building guides, and removing barriers which inhibited growth and efficacy.

But this success was not without barriers. Upon moving to South Carolina, there was no reciprocity. I went against a bureaucratic process- taking the National Teacher Exam and passing it, to recommending I return to my previous state to take four additional courses, to meeting with the head of the State Department of Education and being told I could only teach in the critical needs area of kindergarten. Even after exhausting the resources made available to me, 10 years later, I prevailed. But this is not so with many others.

A South Carolina Solution

South Carolina has made strides in opening the door to alternative certification. 

But it’s not enough.

Statewide Programs like Program of Alternative Certification for Educators (PACE) and Centers for the Re-Education and Advancement of Teachers in Special Education and Related Services Personnel (SC Create) allow candidates from anywhere in the state to seek certification. Locally based programs, such as Alternative Pathways to Educator Certification (APEC), Carolina Collaborative for Alternative Preparation (CarolinaCAP), and Educator Preparation & Innovation Pathways (EPI) focus their efforts in certain geographical areas of the state. Additionally, some programs, such as Teach for America (TFA) seek to bring top candidates to rural areas in South Carolina. 

Despite these efforts, there are still barriers to certification. 

Some programs only serve secondary candidates, or those looking to pursue special education, or those who live in the Midlands, or those residing in rural counties. 

South Carolina can do better. What if we create a solution that works in every district, home town, and classroom, whether candidates are in the Upstate, seeking to become certified in elementary, or residing in rural Jasper county? What if the model pulled together resources versus requiring school districts to compete for them? What if the model could be adapted to fit individual district needs without feeling cookie cutter, but promoting quality, research, rigor, and best practices? What if the model incorporated local ownership or even allowed smaller districts to collaborate to ensure candidates were exposed to full scale opportunities? What if we grew our own?

The Tennessee Department of Education has developed a Grow Your Own  teacher pipeline program as a partnership between the Clarksville-Montgomery school system and the Austin Peay State University's Teacher Residency program. The program paves the way for teaching and educator workforce development nationwide. The state approved Teacher Occupation Apprenticeship programs between school districts and Educator Preparation Programs (EPPs), is among many Grow Your Own in the state of Tennessee which offers free opportunities to become a teacher, and clears the path for any other state or territory to launch similar programs with federal approval.  

The program allows participants to earn a wage while learning to become a teacher. Applicants have the opportunity to participate in an alternative route to certification by working directly under the guidance of a skilled certified teacher. The partnership model includes two and four year colleges and has developed three different pathways for Educational Assistants to earn their degree or certification in teaching. 

The model provides other states the opportunity to structure programming to their specific needs. States can target high school seniors, paraprofessionals, or those who already have degrees and need a pathway to strengthen their knowledge in pedagogy and research based practices.

Will you advocate for this solution? Will you support the policymakers who pledge to adopt this? Will you hold our department of education and educational systems responsible for making this a reality? A statewide approach, which requires federal approval and involves the state’s educational entities, is an approach which can serve every school in every district, every student in every classroom, and aligns local resources with community support and community ownership. South Carolina is ready to do better. Will you support a teacher residency model across the state of South Carolina?


Policy maker.  

Concerned citizen.  


District office staff. 

School board member.





Yes, YOU, racing your eyes across the page, coming to grips with your responsibility as a reader in this story. Which barrier will you remove today? How will you ensure South Carolina has numerous educators with diversified backgrounds who represent the landscape of future members of our society and workforce? How will you ensure inclusive pathways are created which capture the exquisite talent South Carolina has to offer? Encourage your senator to further explore Tennessee’s national model for a teacher residency program. This same Grow Your Own approach can be successful in South Carolina.

According to the February 2022 Supply and Demand Update report, there were a total of 7,870 teacher departures (resignations) and a total of 2,154 teacher vacancies/positions in South Carolina schools up to February 2022 during the 2021-2022 school year. If we do nothing else, or remain reactive, we are certain those numbers will increase. If we take the Call to Action, we begin building South Carolina’s workforce, increasing future teacher’s capacities, and filling South Carolina’s classrooms. We further awaken the senses and the ability of others to demand a solution for our children, our families, our homes, our communities, our state. 

And, we successfully dismantle barriers. For you, for me, and for Anisha. 


Finn, C. (2001). Removing the barriers for Teacher Candidates. Retrieved from

Department of Education (n.d.). Recruitment, Preparation and Induction. Retrieved from

South Carolina Whole Child Education Policy: A Preliminary Analysis

This policy overview provides a snapshot of where South Carolina is while also suggesting next steps that could propel the state toward a more comprehensive system of whole child education. The intention of the authors is that this analysis can assist leaders in designing shifts in policies and practices so schools can more effectively and efficiently operate as hubs of their communities and cross-agency partnerships that can fuel and sustain collective impact, and eventually the transformation of education.

This report provides key policy and interview highlights and includes 16 foundations to build upon, 21 gaps to fill, and 21 opportunities to leverage. Data were assembled from March to December 2021, drawing from over 200 document reviews and 45 interviews with South Carolina state-policy and education policy and business leaders as well as local educators and students

Click the image to read the full report.
Click the image to read the highlights and next steps.

Teacher Leadership and South Carolina’s Teaching Profession: A Path Forward to Accelerate Student Learning in the Aftermath of the Pandemic

Hardly a day goes by without another headline on the challenges facing South Carolina’s teaching profession.

The state’s public schools are facing worsening teacher shortages. Now after almost two years of pandemic-induced disruptions in teaching and learning, a December 2021 news report  portrays South Carolina teachers exhausted by “unmanageable workloads” and demoralized by “lack of respect” from parents and policy leaders.

While the number of teacher vacancies is reported to be “dramatically rising,” our SC-TEACHER research has shown that policymakers and practitioners do not have access to the most accurate data.

While the number of teacher vacancies is reported to be “dramatically rising,” our SC-TEACHER research has shown that policymakers and practitioners do not have access to the most accurate data. This often leads to rehashed solutions for misdiagnosed problems facing the state’s teaching profession.

Unfortunately, the scope of the teacher shortage was growing before the pandemic began. As Patrick asserted in a 2019 blog, the house was on fire as teachers took home low salaries (with a state median of $49,000 at the time) and faced daily challenges resulting from the lack of professional autonomy.

Over the last decade or so, South Carolina’s political leaders and teacher groups have debated teachers and teaching. This includes a failed 2019 bill that addressed a wide range of policies from school governance issues to improving student job-training to raising starting teacher pay.  While the proposed legislation would have removed a few state-required standardized tests for students, it did not include a number of teacher concerns such as large class sizes.

Too often, proposals to address teacher shortages are just not grounded in the evidence on what matters most.

Too often, proposals to address teacher shortages are just not grounded in the evidence on what matters most. The modest salary increases, slight shifts in student testing, and recent proposals to guarantee 30 minutes of unencumbered time for elementary school teachers represent important policy steps to take. Yet they are not sufficient.

As Patrick pointed out poignantly, “simply put, the expectations and requirements for great teaching have changed, but the basic structure of the work day has not.” We could not agree more with Sen. Greg Hembree (R-Horry) and Chair of the Senate Education Committee, who told us recently, “It is time to stop nibbling around the edges” of school reform and the teaching profession.

The evidence is compelling, grounded in studies conducted locally, nationally, and globally. Recent research from SC-TEACHER reveal almost half of South Carolina’s teachers who left their schools in 2020-21 did not leave the profession. The research team, led by Tommy Hodges, found that teachers moved to another district primarily because they sought stronger administrative support.

Other research including this 2019 study by the Learning Policy Institute have shown that the right kind of working conditions — most notably time for teachers to learn from each other and opportunities to lead (while still teaching) — have the greatest impact on retention as well as school performance.

Now a new SC-TEACHER paper, written (by Barnett, Linda Darling-Hammond, and Tony Mackay) for the 2021 International Summit on the Teaching Profession, points to evidence on how teacher leadership has accelerated student learning in the midst of the pandemic. It also addresses how school systems across the globe develop and use teachers as leaders. Lessons from across the globe spell out how schools need to: (1) redesign teaching schedules and school structures; (2) rethink professional learning for the spread of teaching expertise; (3) create more space for innovations from teachers; and (4) reconsider how teaching expertise is recognized, utilized, and valued.

We can do this. A 2020 study from SC-TEACHER found that a significant percentage of our state’s teachers had discovered innovations in student assessments, project-based learning, and family engagement during the pandemic.

We can do this. A 2020 study from SC-TEACHER found that a significant percentage of our state’s teachers had discovered innovations in student assessments, project-based learning, and family engagement during the pandemic. They were ready for more leadership in the return to the new normal of schooling. We could:

  • Apply state-of-the-art technology and tools that save time not only to help teachers problem-solve instructional challenges but also to teach students across schools;
  • Use micro-credentials and other performance assessments to recognize and reward teachers for learning and leading in areas that have clear relevance to a teacher’s specific job duties and areas of expertise;
  • Reinvent the calendar (the school day and/or year) as teachers work on different contracts to create expanded and more personalized student learning as well as more opportunities for educators to lead;
  • Reduce teaching loads for some of the state’s top teachers (including over 6,000 who are National Board Certified) so they can lead without leaving the classrooms (e.g., teacherpreneurs); and
  • Rethink the teacher salary schedule to include opportunities for additional pay for increased responsibility, leadership roles, and expanded impact as well as a menu of financial and non-financial incentives to work in priority schools, subjects, and grade levels.

All of these proposed actions are already implemented somewhere in the U.S. and around the globe – and yes, even some in our state. Three school districts — Charleston, Fairfield, and Pickens — are collaborating with SC-TEACHER now to reimagine the education profession in South Carolina. With support from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the UofSC team is working with district leaders, teachers, and principals to better understand how people, programs, and dollars can be reallocated to reimagine the education professions to accelerate deeper, more equitable learning for students in the aftermath of the pandemic.

More teachers could have time to lead if the many non-teaching educators taught students at least some of the time. Teachers could have more time to lead if our school systems drew on student teachers, paraprofessionals, and instructional coaches and specialists more strategically. We could accelerate student learning in the aftermath of the pandemic if we begin to think of teacher teams — moving beyond the “one teacher per one classroom” model of schooling. (See the ground-breaking work of Arizona State University’s Next Education Workforce.)

Now more than ever, it is time for teachers to lead the transformation of their professional learning and their profession — and for policy leaders to help them do so. The young people of South Carolina deserve no less.

Public schools everywhere are facing a future of rapid change, intensifying complexity, and growing uncertainty. Research advances in neuroscience and the developmental and learning sciences point to new forms of educator learning that require teachers to learn more from each other.

Now more than ever, it is time for teachers to lead the transformation of their professional learning and their profession — and for policy leaders to help them do so. The young people of South Carolina deserve no less.

Barnett Berry is a research professor at University of South Carolina and also serves as a senior research fellow for the Learning Policy Institute. In 2021, the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards recognized him with the James A. Kelly Award for Advancing Accomplished Teaching. Patrick Kelly teaches high school social studies in Richland School District Two and serves as the Director of Government Affairs for the Palmetto State Teachers Association. He is also one of South Carolina’s 6000 National Board Certified Teachers and serves on the National Assessment Governing Board.

Teacher Leadership for Whole Child Education: A Global Perspective

This report describes how teacher leadership has created opportunities to rethink education so that it better meets the needs of students and the aspirations of communities. In it, the authors provide an evidence-based foundation for developing a teacher leadership framework by documenting (1) where and how teachers are leading to make a difference for whole child education, (2) growing evidence on the effects of collaboration on teacher efficacy and teaching effectiveness, and (3) teachers’ access to collaborative opportunities and leadership. The authors close with an approach for developing teacher leadership for the new normal of schooling that they believe must be less about individual teacher leadership and more about a system of leading teachers.

One More Time

There I am, nervously pacing around the room as students slowly filter in. It’s the first day of in-person learning for the year and I don’t know who is more worried – me or the kids? One by one they quietly find their seat and eat breakfast. I watch them scan the room looking for friends they haven’t seen in months. I take a deep breath and run through my introduction in my head. 

As the day gets started, I lead students in the morning greeting. I break the ice and get them to laugh. Then, I look up and lock eyes with the principal and a bright-eyed, brown-haired boy I’ve never seen before. “We want to welcome your new student this morning!” the principal says as I stand frozen. A part of me shifts into auto-pilot. I shakily greet him, help him find a seat, and wish the principal a good day. I’m grateful to have a planning period in ten minutes because I can feel my first good cry seeping out of me. That was the first time I felt like I was in way over my head. 

I can feel my first good cry seeping out of me. That was the first time I felt like I was in way over my head.


As the year continued, more challenges presented themselves, from technology to ever-changing protocols to new students constantly joining my class from the virtual program. Each new student was incredibly behind. They were frustrated with school and tired of asking for help. It broke my heart to see them so defeated. And it made me angry. Angry that I was getting students who were so far behind, and that I was expected to magically catch them up. How was I, a first-year teacher, supposed to figure this out alone?” 

I spent so much time upset and angry at the situation that I changed the climate in my classroom. My once radiant room full of laughter and learning was now cold and stoic. I had students constantly asking if I was tired because I had stopped smiling. I had a short temper about things that, quite honestly, didn’t matter. There was a black cloud looming over me and my classroom, and every day I grew angrier about the impending storm. 

One day in math, we were focusing on multi-digit multiplication. There I was, a whole week into this content and ready to pull out my hair. I felt tired and irritated explaining the basics over and over. I was sitting at my small group table with my kids who needed an extra push. We had all worked tirelessly the past week to try and understand multi-digit multiplication, but it still hadn’t clicked. That day, I decided to try one more way of explaining the concept: “Imagine the numbers are cars, and they’re driving down a road. When they crash, you multiply them.” This analogy changed everything. 

In teaching, we thrive on the ah-ha moments. When I was stuck in my own storm cloud, I ignored a lot of those moments. But not this day. I watched them nail problem after problem and cheer for each other as they succeeded. Their lit-up faces were the sun peeking through the storm clouds, and I accepted the warmth, allowing it to bring me out of my slump. I started to believe in myself and my ability to do right by my students. I chose to change the tone I had set in my classroom. We smiled, we laughed, we cracked jokes, but most importantly, we started meaningful learning all over again. 

I started to believe in myself and my ability to do right by my students. I chose to change the tone I had set in my classroom.

I am embarrassed by the blinders I put up worrying about my feelings and ignoring what was sitting right in front of me – children who needed my help. I am grateful for the days I spent venting to my CarolinaTIP coach. Through those conversations, I started to unpack my feelings. She served as an unbiased listening ear who didn’t know my school or my students. She allowed me to speak without a filter and gave advice when I asked. She also helped me accept that I was the only problem in this situation that I could control. I set the climate in my classroom, and I was the only one who had the power to change it. 

Now, I think back to that bright-eyed, brown-haired boy who was probably just as scared as I was when he walked into the room. I think of how much he grew that year and how sad we all felt when he moved away. I also think of how, on our first day, I tried my greeting just one more time. And I remember when I felt I couldn’t explain multiplication any other way, I tried just one more time. 

This story is published as part of a storytelling retreat hosted by the Center for Educational Partnerships (CEP) housed in the University of South Carolina’s College of Education. CEP partners nominated practicing educators, administrators, and system leaders to share their stories. The Center for Teaching Quality (CTQ), a CEP partner, facilitated the retreat and provided editorial and publication support. Learn more about this work and read additional stories by following @CEP_UofSC and @teachingquality.