CONWAY — It was only his third day as a student teacher, but Chad Hamilton had the attention of his sixth-grade math class at Whittemore Park Middle School.
“Alright guys, we’re going to review our inequality sheets from yesterday. What is the first inequality we saw?” asked Hamilton, who wrote on the Smart Board as hands went up and kids competed to answer. “Y’all are really thinking. That’s good, that’s good.”
Teacher John Williams, who is working with Hamilton this semester, said the Coastal Carolina University football player and aspiring teacher already had been reaching particular students and was getting them more engaged.
“He’s certainly having an impact,” Williams said. “Oh, they’ve tried him, but he’s established classroom management, and he’s doing great.”
Hamilton is studying to be a math teacher, which makes him a hot commodity for school districts in South Carolina and across the country that have been battling a shortage of educators for critical needs areas, such as math, science and special education.
Horry County Schools recruiters and administrators say they want those high-quality teachers who not only can deliver content, but also are tech savvy and can connect with students, and they are refocusing their recruitment efforts to meet those needs. The district is differentiating itself on the recruitment trail with a “Teach at the Beach” theme that highlights one of the advantages of moving to Horry County and also is hosting its own job fair this month.
“We stopped hosting a job fair a few years ago when there were budget cuts and positions decreased, but we have noticed other counties in South Carolina are starting to have them,” said Mary Anderson, HCS director of human resources. “We are competing in state and nationally for the same quality of teachers, so it’s important to get these efforts out early.”
There aren’t enough education graduates in South Carolina to meet the need, according to the S.C. Center for Educator Recruitment, Retention and Advancement at Winthrop University in Rock Hill. Districts have had problems for years filling positions in math, science and special education – which has multiple certification areas, such as Blind and Visually Impaired, Learning Disabilities and Emotional Disabilities.
Horry County has 2,571 classroom teachers for this school year and, in addition to those critical areas, also has needs in secondary English, foreign language, orchestra and guidance, as well as for speech language clinicians and media specialists.
The district does have ways to cope when there is a delay in finding just the right person for an open position, said Teal Harding, HCS spokeswoman. Long-term substitute teachers often are used, and some of those can be educators who retired the previous year, she said.
Revamping recruitment strategy
Teams from Horry County canvas job fairs inside and outside the state – from Nashville to Niagara Falls, N.Y. – that draw students from multiple colleges to one place and those specializing in those critical needs areas. The district has been successful over the years in recruiting special education teachers from Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Joan Grimmett, who retired last year as principal at HCS Early College High School, went on her first recruiting trip last year to the University of Georgia. She has remained a part of the district’s recruiting efforts but said the process isn’t as easy as it seems.
“I walked into this big room, and it was full of people just like me, from 50 to 60 districts, going after the same spring graduates,” Grimmett said. “I just knew we need good teachers, and I was going to go out and bring some back, not knowing how hard that was going to be.”
Grimmett said every student knew the districts in Georgia, but no one recognized Horry County and pronounced it incorrectly with a hard “H.” Every table had the same black tablecloths, she said, and there was nothing to distinguish the district from any of the others, which is why the “Teach at the Beach” concept was revived.
The district is now using tablecloths and wearing shirts in the bright blue color used in its logo and website to attract attention, Grimmett said, and beach balls, sunscreen and other items are on hand to drive home the point that teachers can work and play in Horry County. New promotional materials have been revamped to include information on the Grand Strand – it has 60 miles of white, sandy beaches and averages 214 sunny days – alongside the district’s record-breaking SAT scores at 14 points above the national average and its investment in technology.
Living close to the ocean was a big draw for Cleveland-area native Diana Allen, who is in her first year of teaching and instructs eighth-grade math students at Black Water Middle School. Allen talked to district representatives at the University of Akron’s job fair, and while “Teach at the Beach” wasn’t in use then, she said she was still hooked by the idea of coastal life. Jobs are scarce in Ohio, where teachers are being laid off and schools are closing, and it is still difficult to move away from home, she said, but the “Teach at the Beach” strategy makes the idea of moving a lot easier.
“Driving down here, I had second thoughts, but now that I’m here, there are none,” Allen said. “I’m always recruiting now, because I love the process they have for first-year teachers. They have great mentoring programs, and I’m really impressed at how they want us to stick around.”
Finding first-rate hires at home
Almost half of the teachers hired by the district for 2013-14 came from South Carolina, either through recruitment efforts or from candidates applying online on their own, said Addie Swinney, HCS chief officer for human resources. Most of those hires are Coastal Carolina University graduates, followed by graduates from the University of South Carolina.
CCU has a close relationship with the school districts in Horry and Georgetown counties, said Edward Jadallah, dean of the Spadoni College of Education, who meets quarterly with HCS officials to determine the district’s teaching needs.
“That’s a key for us,” Jadallah said. “Most of our graduates tend to stay in the area. Once they’re here, they want to stay here, so we’re really satisfying a need in South Carolina.”
The university also prepares students for teaching elsewhere, Jadallah said, as it has a large population from out of state, and some of those students do return home. He said many education reforms occur on the state level, and students are advised to plan ahead and look at different options the education programs offer.
“You want to teach in an area you’re passionate about, so number one, enter something you’re excited about and want to teach,” Jadallah said, “but we want them to explore add-on certifications and licensures to make them more marketable. We start with the freshmen, telling them to plan accordingly, because those four years will fly by.”
Student teacher Hamilton, one of those CCU students, said he is excited about what he’s doing, and that, luckily, he is in middle-level mathematics because it is his passion and not because math teachers are in demand.
“I had trouble with math in middle and elementary school, but I had that one teacher in seventh and eighth grade who sat down and helped me a lot,” he said. “I can do math all day long, and I want to be able to help students grasp those concepts.”
Hamilton will graduate in May but will use his fifth-year eligibility to play football next year while getting his Master of Education, concentrating in instructional technology. He said he loves the direction Whittemore Park is taking and hopes to work there when he finishes at CCU. As a student teacher, he is developing a relationship with the school’s principal, Judy Beard, who will know what he is capable of when he applies for a full-time position, Swinney said. The district aims to benefit from similar long-term relationships that are cultivated with students through the recruitment process, she said.
“We look at recruitment just like athletics,” Swinney told the Horry County school board at a recent meeting. “Coaches don’t go and look for an athlete their senior year to go out and play, so we have to nurture and develop relationships before students are ready to graduate.”
Contact VICKI GROOMS at 443-2401.