David Lauderdale

Quit dumping on SC teachers. They're asked to do too much

Why are SC teachers fleeing at record rates? Here’s a look at the crisis by the numbers

SC teachers are leaving the SC public school system at a rapid pace, deterred by factors from low pay to discipline issues in the classroom.
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SC teachers are leaving the SC public school system at a rapid pace, deterred by factors from low pay to discipline issues in the classroom.

Facebook told me that Tuesday is Teacher Appreciation Day.

Teachers need that.

So why is that every other day seems to be Dump On Teachers Day?

It's never been laid out so plainly as it was in a three-day series of stories this week in our newspaper and our sister newspapers around South Carolina — "Classrooms in Crisis: Why SC teachers are leaving in record numbers."

You got a rare, rare look behind the smiley faces school districts specialize in projecting. For once, teachers got their say.

We heard teachers and former teachers tell why the profession is bleeding talent so badly that we're importing teachers from foreign lands, just as we import temporary service workers in the tourism industry.

Teacher pay is bad, and in South Carolina it's below the Southeastern average. Thirty-five states paid teachers better than South Carolina did in 2016.

That we could resolve, if we would. Credit Beaufort County for trying to fix it by boosting teacher salaries by $5,000 over five years, but even that has not yet become the silver bullet.

Maybe that's because of the much bigger problem that also needs the attention our series gave it.

We expect too much from teachers.

We dump all the ills of society into their classrooms and say, "You fix it." And, if not, you take the blame — not to mention the physical and mental damage.

Society wants accountability. Fine. But we concocted this insane measuring stick that said all students on the same day would score above average on standardized tests. And when — of course — they didn't, the teacher and the schools were labeled failures. And the beating has continued until the morale improves.

No one outside the classroom bothered to face reality. In the real world, a remarkable teacher in Greenwood told The State paper's reporter Jamie Self about that day she frantically texted a former student while he was running from police: "Wherever you are, whatever you're doing, stop. They're going to kill you."

I would suggest that this child left himself behind.

Meanwhile, everyone telling teachers how to do their jobs — and it is indeed everyone — invokes the alleged schoolroom of their youth, when June Cleaver was the PTA mom in segregated classrooms and the greatest offense was chewing gum.

And, meanwhile, teachers get no time to plan, or even to eat lunch with adults. They pay out-of-pocket for school supplies. They take second jobs. They implement the latest education fad pushed by the latest superintendent, or the old, white men in Congress or the Statehouse.

And they take home the psychological scars of testing wills with 10-year-olds all day. They also take home piles and piles of papers to be graded and recorded. In reality, even a day off is haunted by the lurking stack of papers.

So, I'm not going to tell teachers how to do their job.

I would tell them it's not their fault. As our state Superintendent Molly Spearman said, "It's all our fault."

Teachers are driven out by horrible school discipline. Hold principals and the central office accountable for that.

And teachers are driven out by this expectation that a test will prove they can fix all wrongs and make all kids above average. Hold legislators accountable for that.

Here's my suggestion. Quit dumping on teachers.

Let's say that anyone who introduces any law or any new fad that tells teachers how to do their job must first serve as a classroom teacher for five years.

David Lauderdale: 843-706-8115, @ThatsLauderdale