The number of students completing teacher education programs in South Carolina has been on a steady decline. The most recent data available from the SC Commission on Higher Education show that during the 2017-18 academic year, only 1,642 students graduated with a Bachelor’s degree that makes them eligible for teacher certification. This number is down from the prior year by 2.5% (40 completions), and it has dropped by 32% (800 completions) since the 2012-13 academic year. With teacher departure rates rising at an equally alarming pace, SC school districts are looking to other sources to fill empty classrooms. Districts are hiring more career changers and other alternative certification program completers, new graduates and experienced teachers from other states, and international teachers. More information about teacher departures and hiring sources can be found in the 2018-19 Annual Educator Supply and Demand Report published by the Center for Educator Recruitment, Retention and Advancement (CERRA).

Why are fewer and fewer high school students choosing to enter teacher education programs and become educators? Money is not likely to be the primary reason that a high school student aspires to be an educator. Teacher pay in South Carolina continues to lag behind the southeastern average, and teachers typically say that they didn’t enter the profession for the money. Bills currently pending in the South Carolina legislature, House bill H.3759 and Senate bill S.419, both provide for an increase in the minimum starting salary for teachers, as well as an across-the-board increase for current teachers. Nevertheless, teacher pay likely will continue to lag behind the salaries associated with other professions requiring similar training, responsibility, and commitment.

What else is keeping young people from viewing the teaching profession as a desirable career? Students have a first-hand look at the profession every day in their classrooms. They perceive that teachers are stressed, frustrated, overwhelmed, unhappy, etc. Parents, including many who are teachers themselves, discourage their own children from becoming teachers. Phi Delta Kappa’s 2018 annual poll on the public’s attitude toward public schools revealed that only 46% of parents would like for their child to become a teacher, down from 70% in 2009.

How do we overcome the negative perception that many have of the teaching profession and encourage young people to become teachers?  It has been said that middle school-aged students may not know what they want to do when they grow up, but many have already decided what they do not want to do. As a result, it is critical that we start early to assure that K-12 students do not have a negative impression of teaching. Current SC programs offered through CERRA, such as ProTeam, encourage middle school students to develop a plan for their life and to consider preparing to enter a profession — such as the teaching profession. Unfortunately, not all middle schools offer the ProTeam course and if they do, many students are unable to fit the class into their schedules.

Jane Turner and the South Carolina Center for Educator Recruitment, Retention, & Advancement (CERRA) are partners in our work for SC-TEACHER.

Teacher Cadet (TC) is a college-credit high school course that goes further to expose students to the teaching profession and give them an opportunity to both observe and work with students. Through year-end course surveys, Cadets routinely report that their experiences working with students are the most influential component of the class. Institutions of higher education (IHEs) serve as College partners by sponsoring Cadet sites and awarding college credit to the Cadets.  These College partners also provide resources and support to the Cadets and the TC instructors. Public high schools in SC also are beginning to offer introductory education classes, and some offer after-school or extra-curricular opportunities for students who are considering becoming teachers. Organizations like The SC Education Association and the Palmetto State Teachers Association offer memberships and programs for high school students.

These experiences are worthwhile even if they do not lead to an immediate decision to pursue a teacher education program. College students or working adults may think back on their experiences in high school and decide to pursue teacher certification. Knowing this, what can IHEs do? Recruit from within by identifying students with undeclared majors or majors that are not associated with an immediate or clear job path. Make information available about the many forgivable loan opportunities for teacher education students, such as the SC Teachers Loan administered through the SC Student Loan Corporation. Making college more affordable and student loan debt less of a burden may impact students who have dismissed teaching as a profession because of pay.

IHEs also could pursue new avenues for the creation of alternative certification programs that are college-based, as opposed to those offered by the SC State Department of Education, local school districts, or commercial enterprises. The Commission on Higher Education, the State Department of Education, and the Legislature currently are looking at ways to allow IHEs to develop such programs. Assuming IHEs are able to administer alternative certification programs in the near future, it will be critical that they are able to freely innovate in ways that non-IHE programs are able to now.

What other ways can we expose students to the rewards the teaching profession has to offer?