The Educator As A Listener
Spearman: “Teaching is hard” work, but complaining about things makes it difficult to recruit new teachers.
Veteran educator Molly Spearman became the student last Tuesday at Clinton High School. She used the instructional method she may have advised her students to use: Think, Research, and Decide.
Spearman was questioned about the Kindergarten Readiness Assessment, cultural bias in standardized tests, and professional treatment of teachers during a 40-minute listening session at Clinton High School. She toured the home of the Red Devils and toured Eastside Elementary School, walking through the buildings and, of course, ducking into classrooms.
A classroom teacher and assistant principal for more than 18 years and a four-term member of the SC House of Representatives, Spearman leads the SC Department of Education, serves as the state’s lead spokesperson for public education teachers, and advocates for sensible school choice.
She readily admitted to a group of District 56 educators and parents that “I don’t have all the answers.”
“South Carolina has a minimum teachers’ pay. But it does not have a maximum. Districts are free to offer (above the minimum) what they can offer,” Spearman said. “I don’t know the answer to that.”
When the SC legislature set the starting teachers’ pay at $35,000/annual, some larger districts used their resources to set the pay level at $40,000/annual. That gave these districts a distinct advantage in competing for an ever-shrinking pool of future teachers graduating from the state’s colleges and universities.
It also damaged the smaller districts’ efforts at teachers retention.
“Teachers will work for a great principal,” Spearman said, extending her long-time philosophy that South Carolina must strengthen its education leadership at all levels.
“I am very impressed,” she said of District 56. “You can see and feel the learning, and the buildings are very well-kept.”
At Clinton High School, Spearman said she saw something she has seen nowhere else in South Carolina.
Special education students run a treats-cart that goes around to teachers’ classrooms during planning periods. It gives the students a lesson in hospitality and business (when to order snacks and refill the cart), and gives the teachers a boost during their in-the-school-day lessons planning.
The special need students “work in the school,” Spearman observed. “We need to spark that interest.”
In response to a question, Spearman said she could not see a time when teachers would be allowed to leave their campuses during the school day. The question revolved around professionalism - shouldn’t teachers have the freedom of some workers in other businesses, to eat lunch together away from the business, and be trusted to return on time to continue the “business day”.
“It is a school,” she said, “and everybody needs to be there.”
That being said, Spearman agreed that teachers need flexible time and their lunches duty-free to “recharge” during the process of educating young people. She said the SC General Assembly right now - even though the lawmakers are not in formal session - are working on the next Education Bill. It will include another recommended teachers’ pay increase, she said (a 4% raise was authorized this year).
“Sometimes we do ourselves a disservice by saying ‘teaching is hard.’ It is, and we get it off our chest,” Spearman said, “but it’s bad for recruitment.”