Elizabeth Mahaffey, South Carolina Director-Teacher of Tomorrow
Apache Junction, Arizona; not the location you would expect to be mentioned when exploring the options for becoming a teacher in South Carolina. How does Apache Junction relate to South Carolina education? A small, quaint town, that while encompassed as part of the Phoenix Metropolitan area, is on the far outskirts of Phoenix. Parents and educators in this area, like the parents and educators who live in various rural areas that comprise significant parts of South Carolina, are faced with the need for additional teachers in their community. While both rural and urban areas are being impacted by the nationwide teacher shortage, communities with similar characteristics to this area of Arizona have been particularly hard-pressed.
Indeed, the shortage of teachers has been a challenge for diverse areas in many states. South Carolina is no exception, with approximately 6,500 teachers not returning to their previous positions this year many school districts have been adversely affected. So, as parents and even community leaders who are invested in the students of South Carolina, we must seek solutions and we may be able to learn from other states. With less graduates in education coming from colleges and universities, alternative certification programs as an avenue to teaching certification is an important option. Such programs, like that of South Carolina Teachers of Tomorrow, offer the opportunity for individuals of various backgrounds who hold a bachelor’s degree to become certified. Additionally, such programs offer the possibility of teaching in the classroom while completing certification.
This is where parents and educators in Apache Junction, Arizona began evaluating possibilities in an “out of the box” fashion for helping with the teacher shortage in their community. Embracing alternative certification, these educators recognized that many of the parents in their community were “educators awaiting”. Bringing valuable experience from many different backgrounds of work and education, parents began receiving information about alternative certification and the possibility of teaching in their community. The driving force behind this initiative can be surmised in one simple question; Who is teaching your child? As a community, educators and parents began looking within to help solve their shortage of teachers. Recognizing the value that parents bring to the table, many parents began considering the possibility of becoming a teacher right in their own town. Additionally, parents who could not look at this option for themselves started evaluating ways in which they could remain part of the process, such as sharing the information within their networks.
As South Carolina enters 2018 the challenge to find qualified teachers remains and new facets to this issue arise. The TERI (Teacher Employee Retention Incentive) program is ending on June 30th of this year. While this program not only includes teachers but other state or local government employees, the specific impact of teachers that will not be returning to the classroom has been described as an “exodus” and “critical situation”. The teacher shortage could mean that districts will have to eliminate class options in some disciplines or schools may have to increase class sizes. An increase in class sizes could mean that your child is not getting the support they need in class. Thus, communities across all of South Carolina find themselves faced with an imperative question: Who is teaching your child? There are many contributing factors to our teacher shortage and it is essential to understand those. It is also essential to look at how other communities nationwide, like that of Apache Junction, that have reached into previously untapped resources to try to find solutions. We often have resources within reach that have not been maximized. Perhaps our parents, educators, and community leaders may consider some similar solutions, like alternative certification and untapped teacher candidate pools. We likely have many “educators awaiting” within our own communities. Along with examining who may be teaching your child, ask the following: Am I an educator awaiting? Do I know any educators awaiting? Exploring these possibilities can make all the difference in our homes, our communities, and our state.