COLUMBIA — With South Carolina's teachers-in-training likely unable to complete their student teaching, the State Board of Education voted Tuesday to waive the number of days they must spend in a K-12 classroom to be certified.
The decision allows education majors statewide to graduate on schedule and teach next school year.
Not doing so could've exacerbated the state's teacher shortage crisis and required college students to stay another semester, adding to college loan debts.
"It could’ve been devastating," said Dr. Jon Pedersen, education dean at the University of South Carolina.
The state requires teacher candidates to get first-hand training in a classroom, under a teacher's supervision, for at least 12 weeks or 60 full days and teach the students by themselves for at least 10 days, during which they're evaluated. They also must pass a testing proving they're ready to teach.
Pederson doubts any of USC's 315 education seniors had completed all minimum requirements before Gov. Henry McMaster ordered all schools to close March 15. Students aren't expected to return until at least May 1.
College graduation ceremonies are usually held mid-May.
The emergency exemptions, approved in a meeting held via teleconference, give colleges flexibility in determining who's ready to graduate and teach in a K-12 classroom.
At USC, those decisions will involve input from professors as well as the teacher the student's been interning with, Pederson said.
"We’ll use every piece of data we possibly can and make the best decisions we can," he said, adding the college is designing other learning possibilities such as virtual collaborations.
The college's Carolina Teacher Induction Program, which offers graduates three years of free coaching and mentoring, "is going to be critical as they go out in the schools next fall," he said.
For years, there have been more teachers leaving South Carolina's classrooms than graduating to become a teacher. Research shows many abandon the profession before their fifth year.
Nearly 1,650 students completed teacher preparation programs in South Carolina colleges in 2017-18, the latest data available through the state Commission on Higher Education.
Waiving the student teaching requirements answers just one of many education uncertainties created by the coronavirus pandemic.
"We don’t want to adversely impact soon-to-be teachers who weren’t given the opportunity to finish their teaching, which was something beyond their control," said state Department of Education spokesman Ryan Brown.