ROCK HILL, S.C. — With weeks left before students return to school, districts across the country face a teacher shortage crisis, forcing them to get creative and competitive to recruit for openings.
It's a lesson the Rock Hill School District took to heart. After recruiting at job fairs and colleges for a year, the district welcomed almost 200 new teachers at its orientation on Thursday.
Among them is Miguel Lujano, who made a career change during the pandemic. He knows exactly how his students will feel on the first day of school because that's how he feels now.
"I had never thought 'I want to teach,'" Lujano said. “It’s scary. I’m 29 so having a different career shift, especially amidst the pandemic, I was nervous."
Lujano is one of the new teachers won over by the Rock Hill School District in colleges or at job fairs. The district says it still has 20 openings to fill, and there are simply not enough teachers in the pipeline.
“We know that the colleges and universities have less education students enrolling in their programs to move towards teaching certification so it’s really an aggressive effort from all school districts to recruit some of the best and brightest from all of those programs," District Spokesperson Lindsay Machak said.
To stay competitive, Rock Hill Schools raised teacher pay for every teacher in the district by $2,200 a year, bringing minimum pay for a new teacher to $43,418.
“That was a huge lift on our finance department to find that money and be able to offer that to all our teachers," Machak said.
Districts are at the mercy of tax dollars and state funding. South Carolina’s minimum pay for a new teacher is $38,000. Even with the raise, the South Carolina Education Association said if you account for inflation, teachers are making less now than a decade ago.
That reality means districts must find ways to supplement teacher pay on their own or lose qualified candidates, like Diane Shelton. Shelton spent 25 years in the classroom as a teacher's assistant but this year is the first time she’ll be a teacher.
“I decided to come out of the shadows and be the lead teacher and I went back to school," Shelton said.
However, Shelton said she could only afford to inspire kids in the classroom because her husband’s salary helps pay the bills at home. That, said Shelton, needs to change.
“I couldn’t have made it on my own with what I brought home," Shelton said, "And I work really hard and I think most teachers really put in the time and the effort.”