Florence teachers join in rally at Statehouse
COLUMBIA, S.C. – Among the nearly 10,000 teachers and supporters protesting Wednesday morning at the South Carolina State House, nearly 300 Florence One Schools teachers came dressed in red to protest low pay and poor working conditions.
The rally, organized by the SC for Ed teacher advocacy group, began at the South Carolina Department of Education building. The participants marched to the capitol, chanting phrases such as “Where’s Molly?” and “I teach. I vote.” State Superientendent of Education Molly Spearman did not attend the rally, choosing instead to serve as a substitute teacher.
Robin Bowman, a Briggs Elementary School teacher and Pee Dee area representative for SC for Ed, said the turnout for the rally was like nothing she’s seen before.
“I think this word gets used a lot, but I think this is a truly amazing sight to see this many educators in South Carolina come together,” Bowman said. “We’ve never had this in our generation of teachers since the late ’70s and early ’80s when educators where advocating for education. So our generation is stepping forward; it makes my heart swell.”
Bowman said the group is looking to the next legislative session to effect change.
“We know that many budgets and things have been done and many things are done deals,” Bowman said. “So we are looking forwardly into the next session. Our goal today is to ask for a seat at the table to write a new bill for students that would truly address real classroom issues that face students and teachers every day.”
Richard McCabe, who teaches English to speakers of other languages at Dewey L. Carter Elementary, Greenwood Elementary and Sneed Middle schools, decided to march for his colleagues.
“I’m not a classroom teacher, and I’m walking in support of my colleagues that are classroom teachers and their class sizes,” McCabe said. “It’s ridiculous the number of students they have to deal with on a daily basis in order to teach.”
McCabe said that the state’s statistics do not take into account teachers like him who do not have a home room and pull out students, which skews the data.
West Florence High School resource teacher Bridgette Davenport said she has seen support from everyone, including parents and businesses.
“Our students deserve better, we deserve better,” Davenport said. “We are in buildings that need repair. We have students that need materials. Teachers themselves are begging for things from Donors Choose or whoever will listen, and we definitely want our children to compete here in South Carolina, but also across the country.”
Davenport, who has been teaching for 20 years, said she wants to see more funding for education.
Florence One Schools had 282 district employees who requested to be off Tuesday, according to Superintendent Richard O’Malley. He said that out of that number, he doesn’t know who planned to attend the rally in Columbia or how many of those absences were teachers.
As of Wednesday morning, the district was 19 substitute teachers short, but after classes at South Florence High School, Southside Middle School and the Florence Career Center were canceled because of water troubles, the district had enough substitute teachers to fill all of the vacancies.
While teachers rallied around the capitol, O’Malley stepped into a sixth-grade math classroom at Briggs Elementary School to show his support for the teachers and to ensure students’ educations were not affected by the teacher’s absence.
“I thought it was important to really walk in the shoes of a teacher,” O’Malley said.
O’Malley said he chose Briggs Elementary because at the time he chose to substitute teach for a day, that school had the most absences.
“It’s not as easy as people think it is,” O’Malley said. “You’ve got to reach at least 25 beings in a classroom, and that’s a hard thing to do.”
One future educator from Florence One Schoools, a Wilson High School graduate, Ryan Hilbourn, said she decided to protest because she knows firsthand how teachers don’t have the resources they need and have too many students.
Hilbourn said she hopes to see the bill tabled this year and have legislators get teachers’ perspectives on education reform.
Hilbourn will begin her last semester and student teach at Francis Marion University this fall.
Throughout the rally, representatives came out of the South Carolina Statehouse to observe the demonstrations.
State Rep. Terry Alexander said he understands that education and economic development go together in the state.
“We’ve got to have a good educational system, so we’ve got to have the opportunities for the teachers to teacher and students to learn in order for the state to grow, and if we don’t, it’s just like sound in grass,” Alexander said. “I support it wholeheartedly.”
Alexander said there’s always time for budgets to be adjusted, but it’s a matter of people in the legislature taking the time to do so.
The SC for Ed rally came after nearly a year of town hall meetings, debate and discussion on education reform across the state of South Carolina. The teachers marched for smaller class sizes and full funding of the base student cost, as well as a 10 percent pay raise.
Currently, teachers are set to receive a 4 percent pay raise in the education bill.