College of Charleston Supports Teaching Students Amid a Challenging Climate

Education major Suzanne Ussery reads to a 4K class at James B. Edwards. (Photos by Reese Moore)

The profession of K-12 education has been making a lot of headlines lately with teachers striking for better pay and school funding in West Virginia, Kentucky and Oklahoma. And the issue of teacher pay and classroom funding has come under scrutiny in South Carolina, too.

But the difficult climate for teachers isn’t dissuading early childhood education major Suzanne Ussery, who will graduate with her teaching degree next month.

“I do not think that teaching is something that you pick, it is more of a calling,” says Ussery, who spent this semester in her clinical internship at James B. Edwards Elementary School in Mount Pleasant.

That’s an attitude, says Frances Welch, dean of the School of Education, Health, and Human Performance, that drives many students into the field of teaching. But with a national teacher shortage, states, school districts, and teacher education programs need to do more, says Welch.

“The teacher shortage has occurred because we don’t have enough people choosing teaching and many credentialed teachers are leaving the profession because they don’t feel supported,” says the dean.

To remedy that, the School of Education, Health, and Human Performance and the Department of Teacher Education have taken on a number of initiatives to recruit more students. Efforts range from approaching the South Carolina Center for Educator Recruitment, Retention and Advancement for assistance in securing more funding for the College’s Teaching Fellows program to enhancing the Call Me Mister program to encourage more men of color to enter teaching, including to collaborate with Clemson University to establish a Center of Excellence in Recruitment and Retention of Minority Teachers. The College’s teacher education department is also in the process of revising its Master of Arts in Teaching program for adults who already hold an undergraduate degree from a two-year program to a one-year program.

Recruitment, however, is only one piece of the equation. New teachers need to be adequately prepared and supported as they enter the classroom for the first time, says Welch.

“I have observed over many years in education that often the newest teachers are placed in the most challenging classrooms,” says Welch. “I believe this is one reason many newly minted teachers do not stay in the profession. Having some type of policy about the difficulty level of classrooms for first and second year teachers, in addition to residency programs that provide needed skills and knowledge to make the transitions to effective classroom teacher, would be beneficial.”

Managing students and meeting their needs successfully is something that Ussery worries about as she prepares to start her career in education next fall.

“I am concerned about the challenge of meeting each student’s individual goals,” says the education major. “This is why I think it is extremely important to individualize instruction so that you can meet the needs of each student.”

When future teachers graduate from the College of Charleston, Welch says, the teacher education department aims to make sure they are equipped with the knowledge and skills to effectively teach, assess, motivate and manage children and the classroom. As they move into the classroom, Welch says it is important for new teachers to speak up, ask questions, and ask for help when they need it.

“Putting their knowledge and skills to work in their own classroom is quite the transition,” says Welch. “It takes time and patience for novice teachers to learn the curriculum at the schools and district as well as the assessments. New teachers must take the time to make the teaching and learning connection for themselves, their students and their students’ families. They must also learn to ask for assistance, support and coaching when needed. Principals, mentors and professors won’t know how best to help and support new teachers unless they ask.”

Ussery says she’s ready for the challenge.

“I have really appreciated getting to work with a variety of different education professors that all have varying educational philosophies,” she says. “The department has done a good job at exposing us to a variety of different classrooms through our field placements. They have also exposed us pretty early on to classroom settings so that we can have more experience in the classroom rather than being thrown into the classroom only for our clinical internship.”

And, according to education professor Mary Ann Hartshorn, director of the College’s Teaching Fellows and Teacher Cadet Programs, the goal of the teacher education program is to support education majors from start to finish. Teaching Fellows are education students who commit to teach four years in South Carolina schools. The Teacher Cadet Program is a program for high school seniors that encourages students to become teachers and provides funding support as well as leadership opportunities.

“We have over ninety Teaching Fellows at present and support eight local Teacher Cadet Programs,” says Hartshorn, noting that teacher education students receive both field and clinical internship assignments in local public schools throughout the program of study to develop competence and confidence in the classroom well before they take their first teaching job out of college. “Our education majors are groomed to be the best and the brightest at the craft of teaching.”

Ussery and Welch both agree that working as a teacher has rewards that far outweigh the difficulties if teachers are prepared and supported.

“Nothing quite matches the look on a child’s face when they have mastered a concept that is difficult for them,” says Welch. “No day in a teacher’s life is the same because students bring humor and a sense of wonder to the classroom. If a teacher is able to teach content and skills that appeal to them and they enjoy working with children and or adolescents, teachers have a fulfilling job that is interesting and fun.”

Ussery adds, “I am excited to watch my students grow throughout the year as well as their school career. Watching the students develop into the people they were meant to be is why I am doing what I am doing.”