By Barney Blakeney
Criticizing teachers who last week organized the strike that saw some 10,000 people converge at the S.C. Statehouse to advocate for teachers and students might be like criticizing mom, apple pie and the American way – the push back could be overwhelming. But though everybody loves a teacher, there’s good and bad in everything, even the teaching profession. I asked some in the education profession their thoughts.
Not everyone felt comfortable going on record with their comments. One Charleston County School Board member said although teachers are tying-in smaller classroom sizes and more access to mental health care to their argument for higher pay, “It’s all about the money,” the board member said. “We’re talking about employees whose starting salary is $38,000 annually, who get every federal holiday and many state holidays off, get two months off each year, get incentives to work in certain schools and get generous benefits. And teachers who work in certain schools get their college debt forgiven.”
Another education professional scrutinized teacher uprisings in South Carolina noting conditions that adversely affect students in the state have existed for decades. South Carolina consistently ranks among the lowest states nationally in education, she said. And its 19-school-district ‘Corridor of Shame’ has remained a political and judicial football some 20 years. She sees South Carolina’s teacher uprising more as national lockstep than student advocacy.
S.C. State Board of Education member and former Charleston Education Network Executive Director Jon Butzon was equally candid. South Carolina teachers will get a raise, Butzon confided, but not all of them deserve it. “Giving teachers a raise is the popular way to go, but when everyone gets the same raise, our best teachers get the same raise as our worst teachers. There’s no way that can work positively,” he said.
Like the solid ‘blue wall’ in law enforcement solidarity among teachers is dependable, Butzon said. Teachers are reluctant to voice discrepancies in their profession. So the variance between good and bad teachers in classrooms next to each other at a given school often is more pronounced than the variance between high performing and low performing schools in the district.
“There still is a talent problem in classrooms. We don’t have all the talent we need in classrooms,” Butzon continued. “The problem is we’ll give raises, but likely won’t see any improvement in student performance. At some point we have to address the quality of the teachers in the classrooms.”