Teach864: Making Teacher Town USA

South Carolina, and more specifically, Greenville County Schools, has committed to the Profile of the South Carolina Graduate so every high school graduate will be prepared for success in college, career, and citizenship. This goal mirrors the mission of Public Education Partners (PEP): to collaborate with community partners to support and strengthen student achievement in Greenville County Schools so every child will graduate ready for college, careers, and civic responsibility.

To fulfill this mission, we must ensure that every child has an effective teacher in every classroom, every day. Indeed, to have amazing teachers in every classroom positions our students not only to succeed academically, but also for lifelong success, putting and keeping them on a track for upward economic mobility.

However, as has been widely and frequently reported, our state is experiencing an alarming and growing teacher shortage. The data and trends reveal a troubling equation that ultimately does not bode well for students’ ongoing academic growth and long-term success:

  • Over the past five years, fewer teachers are entering the profession (down 25% from 2012-13)
  • More teachers are leaving the profession (13% left their positions in the 2016-17 school year, an increase of 9% from 2010-2011), particularly during their first five years of teaching (38%)
  • The number of vacant positions across South Carolina grows each year (1,849 at the beginning of this school year, up almost 40% since 2013), in part because the student population continues to increase (up by almost 30,000 since 2013).

Here in Greenville, we are not immune to these shortage trends, particularly in such subject areas as math, science, foreign language, and special education. “Why is this shortage happening? What can we do about it?” We at PEP often hear and welcome these two questions.

Educators and policymakers across South Carolina have also taken notice of the increasing teacher shortage. In 2017, State Superintendent Molly Spearman convened an Educator Retention and Recruitment Committee to review current research, best practices, and received input from South Carolina teachers. PEP also provided input and recommendations to this Committee.

On December 31, 2017, the Committee submitted a report to the Legislature that included 29 practical recommendations and urged, “These recommendations should be implemented swiftly and with fidelity.” Taken as a whole, these recommendations – from re-branding teaching through marketing, to salary increases, to housing incentives, to more teacher mentors – reveal that the teacher shortage is a symptom of a deeper, systemic issue pertaining to the degree to which teaching is considered and supported as a profession.

Consequently, we must not fall prey to believing in a single silver bullet solution, and instead dually consider both policy and innovation to ultimately elevate and modernize the teaching profession.

PEP is uniquely positioned to help tackle the shortage by elevating the teaching profession. We operate at the intersection of educational innovation, policy and research. If you’re a visual learner, think of a three-circle Venn diagram (innovation, policy and research as the circles) with PEP in the middle.

Since our founding in 1985 as the Alliance for Quality Education, PEP has fostered local public/private partnerships to introduce innovative educational solutions, and to position the community as informed advocates to bust systemic barriers getting in the way of student achievement. Knowing the critical role K-12 public education plays in Greenville’s health and prosperity, PEP champions high-quality, public education in Greenville County while leveraging its autonomy from the school system to engage the Greenville community as investors in public education.

In relation to the teacher shortage, PEP’s goal is for Greenville to be known as Teacher Town, USA. Silicon Valley is the mecca and destination for technology startups and entrepreneurs. Wall Street is the mecca and destination for banking. PEP envisions Greenville as the mecca, magnet, and destination for the country’s greatest teacher talent. Therefore, we’ve begun to ask what needs to be in place at the school, policy and community levels for Greenville to be Teacher Town, USA.

To launch us towards this goal, PEP is excited to introduce Teach864 (864 being a shout-out to Greenville’s area code). Teach864 is a portfolio of innovations and efforts centered on recruitment, retention and advancement, that when taken together, become a movement to elevate and celebrate the teaching profession in Greenville.

We are indebted to our community – our foundation, corporate and individual partners – for investing in PEP’s launch of Teach864 and its portfolio. Thus far, this portfolio focuses on the following:

  • Open additional, viable pathways into teachingThe Greenville Alternative Teacher Education program (GATE) is the first district-based alternative certification program for middle and high school math, science and foreign language teachers in South Carolina. This high-demand, three-year program has been developed to provide: a high-quality, additional pathway into teaching; outstanding teachers with the preparation needed to meet the demands of today’s classrooms; and, a model for other districts that are wishing to do the same.
  • Seed innovation in the classroom to support teacher creativityBuilding STEAM grants are offered to Greenville County School teachers so they can create projects that engage students in the creativity and passion of the arts, expose students to the collaborative, problem-solving essence of engineering, and provide students the opportunity to experience the joy of inquiry, discovery, and innovation through science, technology and mathematics.
  • Launch school-wide interventions to retain teacher talent­ The Mullins Grant for Quality Teaching is offered to schools to develop and implement school-wide strategies that increase the likelihood of teachers returning to the same teaching site the following year.
  • Advocate for policies that assist with teacher recruitment and retention – Higher overall teacher salaries make a profession more competitive, attractive and reflect the community’s value in teachers. To advocate for such policy, our community must be equipped with the knowledge and data underlying such topics as the teacher shortage, school spending, school funding and the link between education and economic prosperity. PEP produces an annual policy agenda, coupled with publications such as “Facts & Figures on our Public Schools,” to do so.
  • Market the profession to elevate the social status of teachers – #Teach864 is a campaign to celebrate and elevate teachers and the benefits fantastic teachers yield a community. Launched at #Teach864 Night at Fluor Field with nearly 1,300 teachers in attendance, #Teach864 is now visible on billboards across Greenville and on social media channels.

These programs are just the beginning of the Teach864 movement. PEP is currently exploring additional strategies to elevate the profession, including teacher housing, new teacher leadership opportunities, and bringing together K-12 and institutions of higher education to promote the teaching profession.

So for now we ask: 1) The next time you meet a teacher thank her/him, and 2) On social media utilize #Teach864.

We fully believe that amongst its many other great attributes, Greenville will be known as Teacher Town, USA.

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