Can a half-million-dollars worth of TV and Internet ads attract new teachers to the profession? That’s what South Carolina’s department of education is hoping.
South Carolina is facing a teacher shortage, a problem that’s exacerbated by a high turnover rate. In the 2016-2017 school year, 2,465 teachers did not return to their same position after five or fewer years on the job, according to the Center for Educator Recruitment, Retention & Advancement. That number is up from 1,796 in the 2014-2015 school year.
The state estimates it will need more than 5,000 new teachers each year. In-state teacher-preparation programs graduate about 2,000 candidates a year.
A December 2017 report published by the state’s department of education suggests ways to address the problem. One of them was a marketing campaign aimed at painting a more appealing picture of a battered profession. Such ads aimed at attracting teachers into the profession are not without precedent. The U.S. Department of Education partnered with teach.org, the Advertising Council, and other groups to launch an ad campaign on TV and radio targeting college graduates, especially those with an aptitude for math and science.
The advertisements in South Carolina’s campaign will appear on broadcast and cable TV, streaming sites like Hulu, as well as on Twitter, Youtube, and Instagram. “In this digital age we’ve got to do more to get the word out and the best way is through mass media,” Ryan Brown, spokesman for the state’s department of education, said in an interview. “I think if we can show effectiveness it will be tax dollars well spent.”
In one of the ads touting the state’s graduation rate, someone in high heel shoes and a graduation gown walks across the stage, as these words appear on the screen: “South Carolina’s high school graduation rate is ...” A voiceover says, “Oh, this is going to be low.” Then we get the second part of the sentence: "... 84.6%, an all-time high.” The voiceover remarks, “Wow! That is pretty good.” You can view the 15-second ad in the video below.
Another ad follows the same strategy. It starts with the words: “South Carolina SAT scores are ...” The voiceover: “Oh, boy, yeah, I can see where this one’s going.” The kicker: " ... well above the national average.”
One criticism is that the ads seem to promote department of education accomplishments more than try to attract new teachers. “These are nice feel-good ads, but they really don’t talk about teacher recruitment,” said Ashley Landess, president of the advocacy group South Carolina Policy Council. “Did we really need to spend $500,000 on this?”
But Brown told Education Week that this is just the first phase of ads, focused on changing the way people in the state view teaching. “There are some good things going on,” Brown said. “There are some things we lead the nation in, so the idea was to push that information out to the public, knowing that no one is going to go into teaching if there is this negative perception of the profession among the young people in our state.”
A second wave of ads later this year will use a more targeted recruitment strategy, aimed at inspiring high schoolers and career changers to become teachers. The ads will direct viewers to a website offering advice on how to enter the profession. Brown said these videos are already paid for, but the department will have to pay additional money to get them on TV and other platforms.
Some phase-one ads do aim to inspire. In one of them, South Carolina’s 2018 Teacher of the Year Erin Fox talks about how she passed on coaching the girl’s cross-country team because she didn’t think she was a good enough runner. But the boy’s cross-country coach changed her mind saying, "[The students] don’t need you to keep up, they just need you to show up.” Fox says in the video that she remembers that little truth whenever the going gets tough. “Everyone just needs someone to inspire them to get better everyday. And that’s what I do.” Still, the ad doesn’t specifically call on viewers to join the profession.
The Post and Courier noted that the ad campaign coincides with superintendent Molly Spearman’s re-election bid in November. Brown told the newspaper that the ads are not in any way related to the campaign.
“We’ve got a ton of great programs that have shown results,” Brown told Education Week, citing the state’s student loan forgiveness initiative and the Call Me Mister program aimed at recruiting African-American males into the teaching profession. The latter, which started at Clemson University in South Carolina, has a participant retention rate of 100 percent, according to Brown, and has been expanded to other states. “The problem is people don’t know about them.”
Image: A screenshot from a series of videos in South Carolina’s “Dedication to Education” ad campaign
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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.