According to longtime veteran teachers who spoke before a Senate subcommittee this week, teaching in South Carolina is not about standing before a class and engaging students in learning anymore.
One longtime teacher told the committee she can hold her high school class’ attention for only about 10 minutes.
“I have learned over the last five years that students tend not to listen when the teacher is addressing them as a whole class. So I’ve adapted my teaching style to include no more than 5 to 10 minutes of whole class dialogue followed by speaking with each student individually,” said Lisa Ellis, founder of SC for Ed.
“This movement began in May as a cry for help,” Ellis explained about the formation of SC for Ed.
Ellis was among several educators the Senate K-12 Education Subcommittee invited to speak Monday at the State House about “removing clutter from the classroom that creates barriers for teachers.” Legislators are looking at ways to encourage more people to become teachers at South Carolina schools.
According to Associate Dean of the University of South Carolina College of Education Tommy Hodges, high teacher turnover rates are costing the state as much as $18,000 per teacher.
Ellis was candid with the experiences she provided that teachers endure every day at work. She raised issues that the public has known are problems deterring teachers: low pay, class size and too much testing. Class size is an issue created by the current shortage of teachers. If a teacher calls in sick and a substitute cannot be hired, students are distributed to other classes for the day.
“There are classes in South Carolina that have upwards of 35-40 in them,” Ellis said, and that’s a day with normal staffing. “Please explain how a teacher is supposed to facilitate learning in this environment.”
She used her own classes as an example.
The classes of 20 and 22, those students are learning,” she said. “The class of 28 is simply management of behavior and putting out fires every day, every minute of that class. And this is high school where students actually know not to touch each other. So imagine those numbers in an elementary or middle school classroom.”
“We have, because of report cards, because we’re worried that the press is going to get a hold of a bad report card grade and we can’t have that,” said Sherry East, Rock Hill teacher and President of the South Carolina Education Association. “Teachers are required to give three tests to the same kid because they failed it because they didn’t study and now the workload on the teacher has increased yet we don’t want to fail anybody.”
East said lowering expectations so that students don’t fail and schools receive good scores will have long-term effects on child development.
“Don’t hold us accountable to you made the plate bigger because you don’t want to fail anybody,” she said. “So what’s happened is the first time children experience failure is on someone’s dime, either the business world’s dime or college’s dime or a parent’s dime in high school. So that’s some of the things that have increased the workload and the frustration of teachers.”
East said teachers have to work second jobs to make ends meet.
“Most of us have second jobs,” she said. “I, myself had a second job for 23 years, partly at the beginning because of money but at the end it was for the dental insurance.”
East said most elementary school teachers are required to eat lunch with their classes and do not get a break during the day even to go to the bathroom. She said SCEA member teachers call her telling her they are required to work after-school activities without additional compensation. She told Senators about a teacher who was required to bake cupcakes for a school fundraiser.
“We didn’t go to school to bake cupcakes,” she said.
But the issues go way beyond cupcakes to include personal safety.
“Behavior and discipline issues that I’m hearing about that are being pushed under the rug, again, because we do not want to show up bad on a report card. You don’t want to be considered an unsafe school,” East said.
“So teachers are being threatened. They’re actually being pinched, bit, spit on, hit and nothing is done to them,” East said of the lack of discipline taken against students who physically attack teachers. She described how one teacher was out three weeks with a concussion while the student who hit her over the head with a painting was not disciplined.
“A teacher’s working conditions are a child’s learning conditions and we could do better,” East said. “We should do better.”