Murray-Lasaine Elementary (copy)

A Murray-Lasaine Elementary School Montessori upper elementary teacher  works with her students on their reading and comprehension skills on January 24. Brad Nettles/Staff

Public schools in 48 states, including South Carolina, reported mathematics teacher shortages for the 2017-18 school year. In fact, mathematics teacher shortages have been prevalent in South Carolina since 2000.

The tri-county region’s economy now requires a highly educated and skilled labor force, particularly in the STEM disciplines, to remain competitive. Those same economic trends that have made mathematics skills increasingly valuable to students have made it increasingly difficult to attract and retain skilled mathematics teachers.

A large body of evidence confirms that teacher effectiveness is a key determinant of students’ academic progress. Indeed, it is likely the case that, as former President Barack Obama has said, “The quality of math and science teachers is the most important single factor influencing whether students will succeed or fail in science, technology, engineering and math.”

Yet we, as a society, don’t value excellent teachers as highly as we should. That is unacceptable. Teachers deserve our respect, and we must continue to find ways to motivate and inspire those in this noble profession and those considering joining it.

Mathematics prepares and develops a student’s mind to accept, analyze and execute complex ideas. It is built level by level, and mastering math fundamentals in the early grades is the gateway to future course and career work.

Students benefit when their teachers have the tools and resources they need. However, budget constraints and teacher shortages — particularly for those in STEM subjects — increase pressures on teacher time and severely limit opportunities for sustained professional development.

We must fund programs and provide time within the school week for continuous learning opportunities that allow educators to advance their skills. Without this emphasis on professional development, our teachers and students will continue to suffer.

Since retiring as an executive at The Boeing Co., I’ve remained active in the Charleston region and have been serving as the convener of Tri-County Cradle to Career Collaborative’s Math Pathways Project Team. This team is made up of math representatives from the four public school districts as well as the six major colleges and universities that serve the region.

We meet monthly to work on ways to improve math proficiency for all students. About a year ago, we decided to start brainstorming ways to empower, honor and put a spotlight on mathematics teachers who are working tirelessly to train our workforce.

This month we recognized 22 teachers and administrators who were nominated by their peers for their excellence. We hope these teachers left this event feeling more inspired, respected and appreciated.

We also know that there are many more educators in this region who are practically heroic in their efforts to teach our children. We can’t possibly say thank you to all of them individually.

Together, though, as a community, we can make a great impact on the lives of our teachers. To all the educators reading this, I say thank you on behalf of the Math Pathways Project Team. We stand with you and are cheering for your continued success.

To those students who are thinking about becoming a teacher and to those professionals who have the skills to teach, know that we need more inspired educators to join and remain in the education profession. We will welcome and embrace you.

To those who are not educators, I encourage you to approach every teacher you meet with a spirit of gratitude and respect. Ask them how you can help, and find ways to show your appreciation.

Remember, teachers make all other professions possible. The least we can do as a concerned society is to show our respect.

Geoff Schuler is a retired Boeing executive who serves as the convener of Tri-County Cradle to Career Collaborative’s Math Pathways Project Team.