Supportive School Leadership, Less Paperwork Are Factors to Bring Teachers Back to Classroom

October 29, 2008

ROCK HILL, SC – October 29, 2008 – Certified teachers not currently teaching in South Carolina said that having supportive school leadership and less paperwork are among the factors that would entice them to return to the classroom, according to a survey conducted by the Center for Educator Recruitment, Retention, and Advancement (CERRA) in conjunction with the South Carolina Department of Education. 

Data from the South Carolina Department of Education indicate there are more than 20,000 inactive certified teachers in the state. CERRA surveyed a random sample of 2,929 educators who have maintained a current teacher certification yet are not actively teaching in a classroom and, while many of the findings are not surprising, they do substantiate what many in the education community have thought for years. 

This study gives a voice to teachers in South Carolina who have left the classroom and confirms findings of more research studies on teacher attrition, says CERRA executive director Gayle Sawyer. As a former personnel director, I know firsthand the struggles of retaining teachers. As costly as some of these initiatives would be to put in place, the expense of teacher turnover is more costly to districts in time and resources and to students in loss of teacher quality and student achievement, especially in hard-to-staff schools. 

At least half of the survey respondents indicated the following items, to a great extent, would entice them back to teaching:

*         Supportive principal and school leadership

*         Input into selection of assignment

*         Unencumbered planning time

*         More support with student discipline

*         Lower teacher/student ratio

*         A reduction in paperwork or addition of clerical assistance

*         Part-time positions or job sharing options

*         More instruction time with fewer interruptions

*         Salary level above the Southeast average

*         Adequate supplies, equipment, and materials 

Of those who responded, more than 75 percent said that having input into curricular decisions, having more resources and assistance with low-achieving students, and holding fewer after school meetings would be necessary for a return to the classroom. About 60 percent of the respondents have 21 or more years of teaching experience and, while nearing retirement, have more to offer students across South Carolina. In 2006, 691.5 teachers returned to the classroom after retiring the previous year; however, in 2007, fewer than 320 opted for a return. 

This survey provides important information as we continue to focus on elevating and reinvigorating the teaching profession, said Mark Bounds, Deputy Superintendent for Educator Quality and Leadership. We must do all we can to provide teachers with more compensation, working conditions that demonstrate support for great teachers and community partnerships that support our schools, teachers and students. 

The US Department of Labor estimates that attrition costs an employer 30 percent of the exiting employee’s salary. In an August 2005 report from the Alliance for Excellent Education, the total teacher turnover cost for South Carolina was calculated in excess of $74.5 million. Given this data, South Carolina could save more than $20 million annually if teacher attrition were reduced by 30 percent. 

An average of 6,153 teachers per year have left the classroom in the past three years; and according to South Carolina Retirement System, 8,657 public school educators (based on service and/or age) are eligible to retire at the end of the current school year. With districts facing an increase in Baby Boomer retirements, school staffing issues are a growing concern statewide. To draw a portion of the 20,000 inactive certified teachers back to the classroom would help reduce personnel hiring anxiety. 

Sawyer added it’s important to understand what teachers’ needs are as they are making career decisions. We hope the information gathered through this research proves beneficial to districts across South Carolina as each works to increase teacher recruitment and retention, she said.


The full report is available at