Responses to a survey from 853 educators in the Charleston County School District (CCSD) detail a bleak education experience on both sides of the teacher’s desk, with concerns ranging from the number of responsibilities levied on teachers to impact from and response to the pandemic.
Put together and submitted to district leaders by the Charleston Teacher Alliance (CTA), the report highlighted a number of findings and included quoted responses from anonymous teachers gathered between Sept. 30 and Oct. 12.
Normally conducted during winter, CTA director and Moultrie Middle School teacher Jody Stallings said he had been hearing and experiencing many of the reported concerns earlier than expected.
“The sooner you attack these problems, the better chance the kids have to learn,” he said. “It’s a long year, and to be as stressful as it has been this early — usually the first of the year is a sort of honeymoon phase; it’s not usually until the end of the year you hear that two-thirds of teachers are ready to give up.”
And it seems the CTA and teachers have some backing of higher-ups. In a letter response to the report, CCSD Board of Trustees Chairman Eric Mack summarized priority concerns and relayed his appreciation for the CTA’s work compiling the survey results.
“You have our assurance that we take these concerns quite seriously and that we will work over the coming weeks to implement measures to alleviate stressors to the extent feasible,” Mack wrote.
But according to survey results, only 21% of teachers who responded believe CCSD officials value their teachers and 13% feel supported by the school board Mack leads. Numbers vary by school, with one reporting 0% of respondents feeling supported by district leaders.
“Last year, we started with a real spirit of collaboration, ‘This is a new thing; let’s work together and make the best of it as we can,’ ” Stallings said. “This year, it was sort of the sense of, ‘Well, this is just another year.’ Then the delta variant came in, and it wasn’t a normal year. Losing that spirit of collaboration has really cost us.”
Stallings said the majority of the problems stem from the unexpected continuation of the pandemic due to the delta surge.
“It thrusted itself on us suddenly,” he said. “It had felt like things were winding down, and then it immediately became our focus again without us being able to anticipate it. We all had this idea that the vaccines were going to fix everything, but they didn’t. We did have kids in quarantine. We did have kids in hybrid classrooms, and that startled everybody. We thought it was going to be back to normal, and it wasn’t.”
And while some saw opportunity for positive, and in some places radical, change in the education system, the pandemic being brought back to the forefront left little opportunity for innovation.
“There were some changes the district was thinking about bringing in, but the first thing we heard was that we had to hold off on that stuff — we couldn’t try too much at once,” Stallings said.
And with students coming in after a year of well-documented educational hardship, teachers are reporting higher levels of student need, and greater concern regarding discipline.
“Students are just bringing a lot of baggage with them,” Stallings said. “When you realize how much more your kids need from you and how much more difficult it is to teach through the other issues … it’s just a bombardment of things all at one time. You feel like you’re under siege.”
According to survey responses, 79% of teachers say their students’ needs are greater than last year. All the while, teachers are reporting concerns with having to learn and implement new curriculums, tech systems and duty responsibilities and attend more meetings than ever before.
And the issues are compounded by a not-so-new problem: a shortage of vital staff. The existing teacher shortage has only been exacerbated by the pandemic, and with support staff shortages being reported across the nation, including nurses, subsittute teachers and even bus drivers, teachers feel more alone than ever.
“CTA provides the only opportunity for me to voice my concerns and difficulties with the district,” one anonymous survey response reads. “I feel as though the voices of teachers are mostly ignored in favor of what the district would like to do.”
“We are overworked, underpaid and under-appreicated,” reads another. “It is demoralizing.”
Some of the survey responses by anonymous CCSD teachers
“When 40 minutes of your time is spent on duty, it takes away time from helping your students. I have turned students away who were asking for extra help, I have turned students away who came to me crying, and I have not had the opportunity to pull a student aside for a brief conference because of duty.”
“Teacher morale is lower than I have ever seen it, and I’ve been in education for 31 years. With substitute teachers not being available and teacher absences high, teachers are covering other teachers’ classes during their planning periods, giving them no downtime. Often, these classes have been left with no lesson plans for the students.”
“I will be leaving the profession this year after more than 20 years. The amount of work unapologetically being put on teachers is unacceptable.”
“I think about quitting on a regular basis.”
“We are drowning in the pressure! I have been a teacher for 28 years and this has been one of the worst I have ever had. More and more is being asked of us, and we are more micromanaged than ever before … We don’t have time in the day to breathe. Our students are listening to teacher-directed instruction almost all day long, and I feel like we are ‘burning and churning’ a generation of students whose attention spans are getting shorter and shorter. “
“There is just too much to do and too many non-teaching demands being put on teachers. Most parents are great, but the ones who aren’t behave so poorly it’s hard to continue as a teacher. The attacks are vicious, and my principal says nothing to defend us or to quell the storm.”