My 11 years in public education have been spent in one school — the school I graduated from in 2003 in the rural community I’ve lived in since birth.
I was the student South Carolina wanted to attract to the teaching profession. I am the teacher South Carolina wants to retain. But I am barely hanging on.
Once again, legislators are tackling the matter of teacher attraction and retention. But if they truly want to attract and retain teachers, they should listen to people who are in South Carolina’s classrooms. They would discover a few things that teachers need:
Teachers need to be appreciated. Teaching is an undervalued profession, and the demeaning reaches beyond salary. Society’s misconceptions about education are crafted by stereotypical portrayals of teachers in movies or outdated memories about what it was like to be a student decades ago. Parents regularly question pedagogical decisions, simply because school today does not fit their misguided stereotypes. Education has shifted, and inquiry-based learning takes precedent in most classrooms. It’s time that parents and legislators recognize these shifts and support the instructional decisions teachers make for their classrooms.
Teachers need autonomy. Thankfully, I teach in a school that does not use curriculum alignment documents or strict pacing guides, and my administration values the judgment of teachers within our classrooms. Teachers in districts that are solely focused on numbers are restricted, and students suffer because no allowance is made for differentiation or reteaching for content-mastery. In districts with strict pacing guides, teachers are left with no option but to stay the course — even when they know they are failing their students.
Teachers need appropriate resources. This need actually is monetary. Teachers in rural districts face funding discrepancies that districts with large fiscal contributions do not face. The court’s decision on the “Corridor of Shame” lawsuit (Abbeville County v. South Carolina) found that the state “prevent(s) students within these districts from receiving the constitutionally required opportunity” to receive a “minimally adequate education.”
Students in certain areas of the state have opportunities that students in rural districts only dream of. While my district’s administration attempts at every juncture to provide unique experiences and learning opportunities, it cannot keep up with the financial abilities of other districts in our state. Many rural districts also pay teachers extra to teach a class during their planning period in order to avoid the financial stress of hiring an additional faculty member, leaving students with overwhelmed teachers or virtual instruction for multiple classes.
Teachers are coaches and mentors, sideline supporters and audience members. Every moment of this interaction is vital.
Teachers need people to recognize we are more than teachers, especially in rural districts. I have taught all levels of high school English and language arts. I have coached cheerleading, and I have been an assistant band director. I currently teach English 10 honors, International Baccalaureate language and literature and Teacher Cadet. I’m the yearbook advisor, and I serve as the literacy coordinator for my school. I am also the musical third of our theater staff along with a biology teacher with a passion for drama and our school’s dance teacher. Teachers are coaches and mentors, sideline supporters and audience members. Every moment of this interaction is vital.
Teachers need to be for our students. Ensuring that our students feel valued, loved and safe is our single most important goal. No lesson, no standard, no assessment can accomplish what relationships can.
Listen, legislators: I am still here, but I am barely hanging on.
I have to second-guess decisions I make for my students, because inevitably, they will be questioned by someone with no training in education.
I am barely hanging on because I have to second-guess decisions I make for my students, because inevitably, they will be questioned by someone with no training in education.
I am barely hanging on because parents fail to support the creation of thinkers rather than repositories of endless facts.
I am barely hanging on because every single day I give more of myself mentally and emotionally than I have to give — to people who may or may not show appreciation.
I am barely hanging on because I wholeheartedly love what I do, and I cannot imagine any better life purpose.
I am still here because every decision I make to purposefully choose my students is one that I will never regret.
Ms. Caulder is a teacher in her hometown of Latta, where she and her husband raise their children. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.