This article originally appeared in The State on January 13, 2022. You can view it, along with an audio transcript, online at The State's website.
Like much of the rest of the United States, South Carolina enters 2022 with an acute and expanding teacher recruitment and retention problem. Exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, yet existing long before it, fewer college-bound high school graduates are interested in education careers, and more educators are leaving the profession prior to retirement. As with any complex, systemic issue, there isn’t a singular solution. Rather, addressing the educator workforce needs of South Carolina requires resources – financial, human capital, knowledge, and data – to create both systemic change and strategic interventions.
As preparers of the vast majority of South Carolina’s educator workforce, colleges and universities have a key role to play in supporting children, schools and communities across our state. No longer can universities see themselves simply as destination points where people come to learn. While universities may always be a hub for learning, the resources of an institution must be leveraged and deployed within communities to support their identified needs and priorities. As the state’s flagship campus and largest preparer of education professionals, the College of Education at the University of South Carolina has thought deeply about these complex issues and designed innovative, research-driven learning engagements to grow and retain South Carolina’s teacher workforce.
Our Tech2Teach program provides salient pathways from South Carolina’s technical college system to the College of Education for affordable degree completion, and our Apple Core Initiative provides financial support for traditionally underrepresented undergraduate students to engage in unique experiences while gaining teacher certification. Yet, we recognize this is not enough, particularly in support of high-need, rural regions of South Carolina. Together with district partners and the Center for Teaching Quality, the University of South Carolina launched the Carolina Collaborative for Alternative Preparation (CarolinaCAP), a unique alternative preparation route for those who already hold a bachelor’s degree in a field other than education. In just 18 months since its launch and with legislative support, CarolinaCAP is already one of the largest preparers of teachers in South Carolina. The university has also developed a parallel residency pathway for CarolinaCAP, providing candidates a living wage stipend while working alongside an accomplished classroom teacher. Developing innovative pathways into the profession while maintaining robust preparation is a critical role higher education must play to address the educational needs of our children.
While creative pathways help bring individuals into education professions, we must also find ways of retaining our educator workforce. Powerful experiences like the Carolina Teacher Induction Program have demonstrated that attending to the needs of beginning teachers does in fact retain teachers and is far less costly than replacing them. We need to understand much more about the working conditions of teachers within our schools in ways that can advance both educator preparation and school improvements efforts. Furthermore, we must recognize the expertise our educators have and their role as community leaders in defining issues and generating solutions. Our focus on community-based, whole child education systems places educators in roles that require rethinking recognition of the knowledge and expertise educators hold and thus the ways in which educators are compensated.
For all the challenges we face, there are outstanding innovations taking place that can help advance the state’s educator workforce needs. Now, more than ever, South Carolina’s children deserve our efforts to attract and retain a high quality, diverse educator workforce. Doing so requires working together to ensure the challenges we face today become challenges of the past.