‘Let teachers teach’: SC lawmakers push a ‘Bill of Rights’ to reduce classroom burden

Bristow Marchant,

Dec. 13, 2018

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COLUMBIA — As some S.C. lawmakers prepared to roll out a proposed “Teachers’ Bill of Rights” on Wednesday, teachers from across the state warned the situation in their classrooms is dire.

Lexington Middle School teacher Tim Monreal noted many of his Lexington School District 1 colleagues were attending the proposal’s unveiling. “It’s almost a walk out,” he said.

This year, public school teachers have walked out of classrooms from West Virginia to Oklahoma, Monreal said. “They got what they wanted. I think we’re close to having a walk out or a ‘sick out’ here.”

Monreal and about 40 other educators met with state Rep. Russell Ott, D-Calhoun, who was joined by Reps. Seth Rose, D-Richland, and Chris Wooten, R-Lexington, in unveiling the proposal at the State House.

Among other rights, the bill would guarantee S.C. teachers get paid in line with the Southeastern average and get additional compensation when their work stretches beyond the school day. They also would be “free of excessive or burdensome paperwork,” and have at least a quarter of their instruction time set aside for classroom planning, without additional duties.

Ott said he has seen the stress that excess paperwork can put on teachers from watching how his mother, a teacher, has handled the responsibilities the state has placed on her. “She would say, ‘I don’t feel like I taught at all today because I had to fill out this report, that report,’ ” he said.

State Sen. Mike Fanning, D-Fairfield, filed the Senate version of the bill Wednesday, saying the basic focus is on “letting teachers teach.”

“A lot of my colleagues were in school 50 years ago, when you maybe had one standardized test at the end of the year,” Fanning said. “Now, we put every problem in society onto our teachers.”

The goal of the bill is to “peel those responsibilities off of them, so their time can be focused on teaching in the classroom.”

Teachers at the State House on Wednesday were generally in favor of the bill. But they wondered if money would be available to make it a reality.

“Funding is going to have to go through a different track,” Ott said, adding, with a large budget surplus expected, “There’s going to be extra funding this year, and a lot of fighting over it.”

Danielle Verwers, a student-teacher in Richland District 2, said the pay challenges facing teachers are “discouraging” when she considers whether teaching will be her long-term career.

“I looked into being a substitute, but my 16-year-old makes more working at Chick-fil-A,” Verwers said.

Brandon Graves, who teaches music at two Sumter County middle schools, knows the challenges teachers face.

“I have roommates. I drive a car with 115,000 miles on it. I coach track to earn extra, and I still have to pay for (supplies) out of my own budget,” Graves said.

“I came today mainly to be seen, so we can get some respect back into teaching.”

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