Recruiting More Teachers for Rural Schools: What South Carolina Is Doing Right

It is no secret that South Carolina has faced many challenges related to education. Most recently, a shortage of teachers has been severely affecting the most vulnerable regions of South Carolina: our rural and poverty-stricken regions. In a state where most students live below the poverty level, there are some unsung heroes doing their best with the lowest of means, but we desperately need to improve our recruitment and retention of professional educators.

One way the state is supporting this goal is through Proviso 1A.73, also known as the Rural Teacher Recruiting Incentive. The FY16 budget allows for $1.5 million to be spent on this plan. The Center for Educator Recruitment, Retention, and Advancement (CERRA) at Winthrop University along with the South Carolina Department of Education and the Education Oversight Committee has been charged with the responsibility to develop the initiative, and CERRA Executive Director Jane Turner submitted the plan for the first year in January 2016 with multiple components:

Teacher Cadets
The Teacher Cadet program has long been a great partnership among CERRA, high schools, and partner institutions of higher education. Cadets are able to get introductory exposure to the education field and gain valuable field experiences while earning dual or transfer college credit. According to the program’s web site, 2,685 Teacher Cadets are currently enrolled, with approximately 34% indicating they intend to major in education. The South Carolina Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (SCACTE) strongly supports the continued efforts of this program and praises the decision to allocate more money ($150,000) to this endeavor for high schools that do not currently have the program. Our institutions look forward to working with the new high school partners.

Alternative Certification Programs
While our chapter is not in favor of most alternative certification programs, we recognize that the programs are filling gaps in classrooms. Alternatively certified teachers make up a small proportion of the teaching workforce in South Carolina. Our hope is that as the efforts of this proviso are continued into the next fiscal year, its support for alternative-route candidates will be extended to those in traditional preparation programs. For instance, people who are currently employed in school districts who hold 2-year degrees and would be willing to pursue a bachelor’s degree with certification should be able to take advantage of the available funding in the same way as the alternative certification or MAT candidates.

Master of Arts in Teaching Degree
The $50,000 allocation for MAT programs is also supported by SCACTE. We believe that MAT programs are one of the most promising strategies for this initiative because of the high expectations required of the programs. In South Carolina, MAT programs are required to undergo the same rigorous accreditation reviews as undergraduate initial licensure programs. Those programs also allow for teachers to begin at a higher salary than their bachelor’s degree counterparts. We do hope that more funding for this strategy will be allotted in the next budget year.

National Teacher Database
Although the strategy to recruit teachers from outside the state sounds good, our neighboring states are facing the same shortage situation as we are in South Carolina. The teacher shortage is found across the country and many states are trying to recruit teachers, even if it means taking them from other states. That money may be better spent on one of the other strategies.

Critical Need Subject Salary Supplement
The consideration of salary supplements for both new and currently employed teachers in critical areas is to be commended. Because it is often difficult to recruit teachers to rural areas, the supplement could entice beginning teachers while encouraging current teachers by easing their financial burden. Still, $1,500 does not go very far. With the teacher shortage increasing, more and more critical subject areas are likely to be added to the list, which will require more funding for this strategy in future years.

South Carolina has one of the strongest mentoring programs in the country, so the $50,000 allocation for mentoring is money well spent. The turnover rate among beginning teachers nationally makes strong mentorship programs imperative for improving retention. As teacher preparation programs become stronger through more clinically based experiences, we hope that the combination of clinical experiences with strong first- and second-year mentoring will increase the retention rate.

Graduate Studies
The allocation of $215,000 for graduate work in poverty studies or critical-needs areas is the beginning of sustained efforts to retain quality teachers. Many teachers who teach in the most poverty-stricken districts are not from those communities and therefore do not have the background knowledge or experiences to be successful in those districts. If they do become successful, many leave for higher paying districts. This incentive will create viable reasons to stay in those districts. The work done by the Center for Teaching Children of Poverty at Francis Marion University will be key to the successful implementation of this strategy. We hope this strategy will be expanded in future budgets, including the addition of an allowance for other institutions of higher education to develop customized master’s degrees for teaching children of poverty.

Overall, SCACTE commends the plan outlined by CERRA and looks forward to the opportunities to support the strategies in any way we can. Because teachers graduating from traditional preparation programs make up the majority of the teaching workforce in South Carolina, we hope that more emphasis on supporting candidates in traditional teacher preparation programs will be in the next phase of the plan, which has a larger anticipated budget. Not included in the plan are the homegrown ProTeam, Teaching Fellows, and Call Me MiSTER programs, all of which would benefit from additional funding.

Shelly Meyers is president of the South Carolina Association of Colleges for Teacher Education.

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Shelly Meyers

Limestone College