OPINION — The future of education is dependent upon the preparation and training of new teachers. To be honest, we are at a crossroads and may be in trouble!
Teaching is a passion, not a job. Many of South Dakota’s teachers have been in the classroom for numerous years. Unfortunately, the norm over the next several years will be teachers retiring from the profession. The end of great careers by dedicated individuals who have molded, shaped and guided many generations. It is happening all over this great state, including Spearfish!
We are fortunate to have top-notch teacher preparation programs at the colleges and universities in South Dakota and especially at Black Hills State University. I have had the luxury of addressing prospective teachers in the SEED 401 class for several years. Always a great group of young men and women eager to enter the teaching field.
Trouble being that the “pipeline” of new teachers is dwindling. The average number of students that I present to has dropped by over 10 students per semester. It is now obvious that we will have more teachers leaving the profession than we see in the teacher prep programs across the state. Keep in mind as well that we will also see many of those beginning teachers looking for jobs in other states.
The teacher education and preparation program is not easy. Many hours are spent outside of the college classroom environment. Students must have the foundation to successfully continue their education in graduate schools and prepare for leadership roles beyond the classroom, all while teaching on a daily basis. They must be prepared to continue their education to remain certified. Prospering teachers must pass exams to become highly qualified, must spend several weeks observing veteran teachers during both the sophomore and junior years and finally must spend 18 weeks student teaching prior to applying for a teaching certificate. Student teachers do not get paid. Name another occupation that requires as much?
We must value our present and future educators. I have seen many trends in my years of education and especially my years as a high school principal. Some trends are good, some not so much. The loss of educators due to constraints placed on them, due to changing demographics, and maybe most of all, due to the level of respect that teachers no longer have.
Very disheartening. Teaching at one time was one of the most respected occupations. Sadly, that has appeared to change. Teachers are faced with tough decisions on a daily basis, many times with little support.
The days of sorting through 50 applications for teaching jobs is over. Principals now “hope” to get at least a half dozen to choose from! In some cases, Principals hope to get at least two applications.
This dilemma should be personal for all of us with school aged kids or grandkids. It is personal for me on numerous fronts. Losing great teachers is not fun. Having minimal apps for open teaching positions is not fun. Making sure my grandkids receive the same great education as my daughters did is important to me.
We need to assure that all 800 kids at SHS receive teaching and learning from dedicated professionals. The students deserve no less. The community should accept no less. I need to retain experienced teachers to train new teachers. The mentor program must stay strong and I can only do that by hanging on to the great educators that still have the passion to continue the most important work anyone can do – educate youth.
I have a John Wayne quote in my office “Life is hard; it is harder if you’re stupid.” Kids in South Dakota are not stupid because they are blessed with great educators. I hope we can keep it that way.
Steve Morford is the principal of Spearfish High School.
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