How Did We Get Here?

The Decay of the Teaching Profession

Edited by:
Henry Tran, University of South Carolina
Douglas A. Smith, Iowa State University

Published 2022

Teacher attrition is endemic in education, creating teacher quantity and quality gaps across schools that are often stratified by region and racialized nuance (Cowan et al., 2016; Scafidi et al., 2017). This reality is starkly reflected in South Carolina. Not too long ago, on May 1, 2019, a sea of approximately 10,000 people, dressed in red, convened at the state capital in downtown Columbia, SC (Bowers, 2019b). This statewide teacher walkout was assembled to call for the improvement of teachers' working conditions and the learning conditions of their students. The gathering was the largest display of teacher activism in the history of South Carolina and reflected a trend in a larger wave of teacher walkouts that have rippled across the nation over the last five years. The crowd comprised teachers from across South Carolina, who walked out of their classrooms for the gathering, as well as numerous students, parents, university faculty, and other community members that rallied with teachers in solidarity.

Undergirding this walkout and others that took hold across the country is a perennial and pervasive pattern of unfavorable teacher working conditions that have contributed to what some are calling a teacher shortage “crisis” (Chuck, 2019). We have focused our work specifically on the illustrative case of South Carolina, given the extreme teacher staffing challenges the state is facing. Across numerous metrics, the South Carolina teacher shortage has reached critical levels, influenced by teacher recruitment and retention challenges. For instance, the number of teacher education program completers has declined annually, dropping from 2,060 in 2014-15 to 1,642 in the 2018-19 school year. Meanwhile, the number of teachers leaving the teaching field has increased from 4,108.1 to 5,341.3 across that same period (CERRA, 2019). These trends are likely to continue as COVID-19 has put additional pressure on the already fragile teacher labor market.

Some of the hardest-to-staff districts are often located in communities with the highest diversity and poverty. To prosper and progress, reformers and public stakeholders must have a vested interest in maintaining full classrooms and strengthening the teaching workforce. An important element of progress towards tackling these longstanding challenges is to gain a comprehensive understanding of the problem. While teacher shortages are occurring nationwide (Garcia & Weiss, 2019), how they manifest regionally is directly influenced by its localized historical context and the evolution of the teaching profession's reputation within a state. Thus, the impetus of this book is to use South Carolina as an illustrative example to discuss the context and evolution that has shaped the status of the teaching profession that has led to a boiling point of mass teacher shortages and the rise of historic teacher walkouts.

PART I: HOW DID WE GET HERE: THE HISTORICAL AND RACIAL CONTEXT OF THE TEACHING PROFESSION’S DECAY. An Introduction to the Current Status of the Teaching Profession: The Case of South Carolina, Henry Tran and Douglas A. Smith. Radicalizing the Schoolhouse: The Overlooked Civil Rights Agenda of Black Educators in South Carolina Since Reconstruction, Jon N. Hale and Christopher Getowicz. One Step Forward, Two Steps Back: How Districts’ Responses to Desegregation Harmed Black Educators and Students in South Carolina, Vann Holden and Henry Tran. The Perennial Problem of Teacher Recruitment and Retention for Plaintiff Districts in Abbeville v. South Carolina, Henry Tran, Mazen Aziz, and Sara Frakes Reinhardt. PART II: THE DOWNWARD SPIRAL:ECONOMICS OF SCHOOL FUNDING AND TEACHER RETENTION. Teacher Shortages, School Funding, and Legislative Austerity: The Influence of South Carolina’s School Finance Legislation on the Teacher Labor Market, Davíd G. Martínez and Henry Tran. Understanding South Carolina’s Rural Recruitment Initiative: A State Funded Program Developed to Improve Teacher Recruitment and Retention, Henry Tran and Douglas A. Smith. The Relationship Between Teacher Compensation and Employment, Henry Tran and Sharda Jackson. PART III: OVERWORKED AND OVERBURDENED: TEACHER WORKING CONDITIONS. Advancing Teaching as a Profession: Teacher Working Conditions and the Case of South Carolina, Barnett Berry. The Weight of Accountability on Educators, Sharda Jackson Smith and Rinice Sauls. The Role of Principals in South Carolina’s Teacher Shortage, David Buckman. PART IV: MOVING FORWARD: HOW THE TEACHING PROFESSION CAN ASCEND AND FLOURISH. Rural Talent Management: Recruiting and Retaining Teachers in Rural Hard-to-Staff Schools, Douglas A. Smith, Henry Tran, and Christine M. Cain. Negative Discourse and False Claims: Confronting the Myths and Lies That Devalue Teachers and the Teaching Profession, Davíd G. Martínez and Henry Tran. Why Are Teachers Marching in South Carolina? Tim Monreal and Will McCorkle. Looking Ahead: The Future of the Teaching Profession, Henry Tran and Douglas A. Smith. About the Editors.