Filling the slots: Colleton’s teacher shortage | News | The Press and Standard

by | January 26, 2017 5:00 pm

Last Updated: January 25, 2017 at 12:33 pm

By GEORGE SALSBERRY
gsalsberry@lowcountry.com
It is getting tougher every year.
Colleton County Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources Cliff Warren says it is becoming more and more difficult to fill teaching posts.
It is a trend that Warren does not see easing in the foreseeable future.
“We have an aging teacher work force. Our colleges are not producing enough qualified candidates to come out and replace those teachers we are losing through retirement and those who are just leaving the profession in general,” Warren said.
“Till we close that gap, it is just going to be tighter and tighter,” he added.
Attracting more college students to a career in education, he said, is going to require a change in how educators and education is viewed.
“There has to be a change in how education is reflected as a profession. Unfortunately, young people are not excited about going into education because of the bad press. The money’s not great,” he said.
“We have to get that changed nationally,” he said. “There has to be more respect for educators to drive the importance of having people willing to go into education and teach our young people.”
If that perception does not change, Warren said, Colleton and other school districts are going to have look overseas to fill teaching positions.
There is no problem with having international teachers, he said, but the school district does not want to reach the point where international teachers are the district’s main job pool.
With the number of students seeking teaching degrees dropping, Warren added, another option looming would be hiring teachers who have not come to the teaching profession “through the traditional pipeline of education programs but maybe come to it from a different route.”
That’s OK too, he said, but “you don’t want that to be your main focus in hiring teachers, because they need that training, that background.”
There are not a lot of incentives in the school district’s teacher recruiting toolbox.
The school district has offered signing bonuses of a couple of thousand dollars when seeking teachers for the district’s critical areas of need: science, math and special education. The bonus, Warren said, is enough to help teachers filling those critical needs with their moving costs.
By comparison, the Cherokee County School District is offering a $10,000 signing bonus for certified teachers in its critical need areas: math and science.
Cherokee County School District and several others in the state facing difficulty in attracting new teachers received recruiting money, Warren explained. It was up to the individual school district to decide how they would use the money.
Colleton County School District officials, Warren said, might have to look into the possibility of increasing its signing bonuses. “If that is what everybody else is doing, we are going to have to step up to the plate and compete with them as well,” Warren said.
When Warren and other school administrators talk to prospective new teachers, they try to incentivize the discussion.
“We try to talk about our district and how we are set up. Hopefully, we make them understand that a smaller district sometimes can be better for professional growth, for getting to learn the profession and getting good hands-on professional development.
“We share with them that the school district is a good place to come and grow, to learn.” They emphasis to prospects that “Walterboro is a great community to live in.”
Traditionally, February and March are the time when Warren takes that message on the road. Those two months are when many of South Carolina’s colleges and universities host job fairs for their students.
“I will go and set up a table,” Warren said. “We usually pick up one or two candidates.”
This year March will also find the Colleton County School District conducting its own teacher recruitment fair at the high school and it has already started the process of getting to the word out to all the South Carolina institutions of higher education.
“We have not done one for several years. I thought this was a good year to bring it back,” Warren said. “It is an opportunity for anyone who would like to attend to sit down with our principals and talk to them one-to-one. It gives us a heads up on potential candidates.”
In addition to the difficulty of trying to attract new teachers, Colleton County School District faces obstacles in having college students do their student teaching in the district.
This school year the district was fortunate to be able to bring five student-teachers to the district.
The major obstacle for the district in that effort is the fact that there is no college or university nearby that offers a degree in education. USC-Salkehatchie does not offer coursework on an educational degree on-site.
The student-teachers the district tends to attract are local students doing their courses on-line.
The colleges and universities who offer a teaching degree  must sign off on the location where their students do their student teaching.
They want a school district within a short driving distance from their campus because the college’s supervising teacher has to visit the classroom.
Student-teaching can be a gateway to full-time employment, so Colleton’s school district can rarely take advantage of that possible incentive.
But it has happened; in fact, it happened this year.
A college student who did her student-teaching last fall is now employed through the end of the school year. “We happened to have an opening  and she was hired to finish the school year,” Warren said
Colleton County School District began the 12016-2017 with two unfilled teaching positions: one special education teacher at Cottageville Elementary School and a math position at the high school. “We have them filled with long-term subs at this point.”
When trying to fill a teaching post, Warren explained, the district is not going to hire a teacher who does not meet its criteria. “We try to not put just anyone in that post.”
The only other option is to have on-staff teachers take on consolidated classes. But that happens, Warren said, “only if we can make it work.” It is an option school administrators don’t like, but they have had to do it in the past.

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