Local educators explain why they left the profession amid rise in teacher departures

Published: Dec. 1, 2021 at 8:56 PM EST|Updated: Dec. 2, 2021 at 8:40 PM EST
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - A new report out this week details that from last year to this year, nearly 7,000 educators left their teaching jobs across the state. That’s a 15 percent jump in departures from the previous year.

Local educators cited a number of reasons for leaving the profession. Among them, they say they felt overworked and underappreciated. Ultimately, the stress became too much to bear.

“There was no light at the end of the tunnel ever,” Tiffany Dorris, who left the teaching profession, said. “I would work seven or eight hours on a Sunday getting ready for Monday’s class, and my husband would say ‘Well, when are you going to be be done?’ I’m like ‘Never.’”

Dorris quit her job in February as a middle school English teacher at DuBose Middle School in Dorchester School District Two.

The Center for Educator Recruitment, Retention, & Advancement’s (CERRA) 2021 South Carolina Annual Educator Supply & Demand Report details that 34 percent of the approximately 6,9000 who departed left for personal reasons like Dorris.

“Stress is what makes the job exciting, but it also makes it incredibly difficult to do every day, day in and day out, and then not be rewarded at the end of it,” she said. “So not even financial compensation, but your students don’t care. You weren’t as exciting as a videogame.”

The CERRA report, which has been released yearly since 2001, compiles data from 83 public school districts, career and technology centers and state agencies across South Carolina.

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Dorris also cited lack of respect and trust from parents as reasons behind her departure.

According to the CERRA report, 18 percent of those departing retired.

Veronica Primus is among them. She left her job as a literacy coach at H.B. Rhame Elementary School in Richland School District One after working in the district for 20 years.

“My intention, even though I was eligible to retire was to stay in the school district for a couple more years, but because of COVID, at first everyone being home without preparation was very frustrating and challenging because we were not really prepared to do that,” Primus said. “Someone said it’s like building a plane as it’s taking off on the runway, and that’s what it felt like.”

She’d been in the teaching profession for 48 years, and always wanted to pursue this path since her youth. She said teaching is like missionary work, but it becomes difficult when “you don’t have the tools or the environment to do your best.”

“I was frustrated,” she said. “Luckily I had people in my life that I could talk to, cry, get angry, but I knew that there wasn’t any one person to direct your anger at. It’s the system. The system is set up so that teachers are very low on the totem pole, but yet we affect lives.”

When asked what they think need to change for the state to retain its teacher workforce, both Dorris and Primus offered similar solutions.

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“The first thing that needs to happen is that people need to stop thinking that it’s just one thing that’s making teachers leave the profession because that’s a very narrow view of the issue, and that’s the problem is that people are trying to fix this one thing,” Dorris said. “‘If we just give them more money, if we just give them a bathroom break, let’s give them a designated planning period.’ That’s not going to fix it because it’s not the one thing for everybody. For some people it’s multiple things and it’s that straw that broke the camel’s back.”

Dorris also said a more holistic view needs to be taken to elevate the profession and treat teachers with respect. It’s something that must come from the community, not dictated from the South Carolina Department of Education or legislators, she said.

Both former educators said salary is a concern, but better working conditions is a higher priority.

“Treating teachers as human beings, knowing that they have to go to the bathroom periodically, that have to maybe call and check on their own children, they have to eat,” Primus said. “Look at how you can make teaching more humane. To love teachers, to listen to them.”

The South Carolina Education Association hosted a panel on Wednesday night, urging the state legislature to improve working conditions and take action to retain educators.

The SCEA Legislative Agenda calls on legislators to address the teacher shortage by focusing on three key areas: funding and compensation, unencumbered time and recertification, and professional contracts.

As of this fall, South Carolina school districts reported 1,063 vacant positions. This represents a 52 percent increase over the previous year and the most vacancies since CERRA began issuing this report.

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