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Teacher Recruitment | Teacher Talk


Welcome to TeacherTalk! Gina Benz (aka Ms. Benz) and I have been friends and colleagues since 2007, when I was her long-term substitute teacher while she was on parental leave. Because of Gina, my career in education began – and because of Gina, I will remain a lifelong educator. She’s taught me so much over the years, and I’m thrilled to be sharing her expertise with all of you in this new collaborative project, TeacherTalk.

In TeacherTalk, we’ll write about the field of education from an uplifting, encouraging, and always honest perspective, as we share our experiences as teachers and researchers. Sometimes I’ll write the blog post, sometimes Gina will, and sometimes we’ll write it together. We’ll discuss our blogs on a weekly signature segment, Tuesday Teacher Talk, on South Dakota Public Broadcasting's (SDPB) In the Moment with Lori Walsh.

We are kicking off TeacherTalk with a discussion of teacher recruitment, as the nation and state of South Dakota begin another school year amidst a prolonged teacher shortage. As of August 7, 2023, there are 36,500 teacher vacancies across the country, according to research from Kansas State University. Locally, KELO reported that there were 410 open positions in schools across the state, citing data from the Associated School Boards of South Dakota. Anecdotally, my office at the University of South Dakota School of Education receives weekly phone calls and emails from school districts in South Dakota, Iowa, Nebraska, and Minnesota, asking if we have recent graduates who are available for hire.

At the University of South Dakota, part of my job includes recruitment efforts to our School of Education. Here are some of the ways USD, South Dakota, and the nation, are working to entice people into earning a degree in education and ultimately entering the teaching field:

Speak Highly of Teachers
For me, this is one of the most important steps we can take to encourage people to join the teaching field. Teachers have weathered the storms of our collective dissonance in the past few years, and it has contributed to the teacher shortage in our state. Growing up in South Dakota, I was fortunate to have excellent teachers. When I contemplated becoming a teacher, I thought of the great teachers of my childhood, and it made me proud to think of myself continuing their legacy. By simply speaking highly of the profession and talking about fantastic teachers, we inspire future generations into teaching.

Encourage People into the Profession
The South Dakota Department of Education launched a new recruitment campaign and website: Their primary goals include connecting school districts and job seekers, increasing the number of individuals opting for a career in education, and fostering an understanding of the vital role of teaching in shaping an informed and intelligent citizenry. The campaign targets both young individuals and those seeking a career change, and encourages them to contemplate a path in the field of education with the slogan "Make a Future Making Futures.” The campaign features heartfelt testimonials from teachers spanning Avon to Lemmon, who share their classroom experiences, the fulfillment derived from influencing young lives, and the advantages of residing in South Dakota.

Registered Apprenticeship Programs
The U.S. Department of Labor and Regulation and the U.S.Department of Education released a joint statement in 2022 announcing the establishment of registered apprenticeship programs for teaching. Now, approximately 20 states have registered apprenticeship programs, including South Dakota. Ninety paraeducators across South Dakota will begin in a Registered Apprenticeship Program this fall, in a partnership with Northern State, Dakota State, the Board of Regents and the SD Department of Education. The University of South Dakota School of Education recently received $15,000 to start a Registered Apprenticeship Program, which opens funding in tuition reimbursement, wages, and support services for USD students who are studying to become teachers.

Grow Your Own Programs
Recent research shows that the majority of teachers accept teaching positions within 40 miles of their hometown. Likewise, research from the USD School of Education found that those who graduate from rural high schools are more likely to return to rural areas to teach. Based on this data, USD created the Teacher Pathway program in partnership with the Sioux Falls School District in 2018. Students in the program have the option to take two USD education courses – Foundation of American Education (2 credits) and Field Experience (1 credit) – at just $40 per credit during their high school education, giving students a head start in their education degree and “growing our own” teachers in South Dakota. USD just graduated their first cohort of Teacher Pathway students in May 2023, and many of those students are now starting their first year teaching in the Sioux Falls School District and surrounding communities. The Teacher Pathway program has since expanded to include the Harrisburg School District and rural areas through DIAL in partnership with the CORE Educational Cooperative.

Gina Benz is a co-founder and teacher in Sioux Falls School District Teacher Pathway, and the second part of this blog is her experience with the program, as well as her insight on teacher recruitment efforts.

I love being a teacher! There’s no other career you could convince me to try. The sense of community and purpose are fulfilling, and for many, the profession is their avenue to a solid and secure middle class lifestyle. I helped develop the Teacher Pathway program because I wanted students to have an opportunity to see if teaching is for them, and I also hoped to diversify our profession so that students had more staff who shared similar experiences with them. Although racial diversity is important in this endeavor, I also hoped to recruit people from other diverse backgrounds such as those with varied economic and cultural experiences.

Developing and teaching in the Teacher Pathway program has been one of the most meaningful experiences in my 23 years of teaching. Some students develop a passion for teaching, and some realize it’s not for them. Either way, students enter college with a clearer path, knowledge about how children learn, and an inside look at how schools work. My hope is that TeacherTalk will provide some of the same benefits!

Know someone who would make a great teacher in South Dakota? Encourage them to explore the profession by checking out the South Dakota Department of Education’s new website, or connecting with the School of Education at any of the South Dakota universities.

Gina Benz has taught for over 23 years in South Dakota. She currently teaches Teacher Pathway (a class she helped develop), English 3, English 3 for immigrant and refugee students, and AP English Language at Roosevelt High School in Sioux Falls, as well as Technology in Education at the University of Sioux Falls.

In 2015 Gina was one of 37 educators in the nation to receive the Milken Educator Award. Since then she has written and spoken on a state and national level about teacher recruitment and grading practices. Before that she received the Presidential Scholar Program Teacher Recognition Award and Roosevelt High School’s Excellence in Instruction Award in 2012 and the Coca-Cola Educator of Distinction Award in 2007.
Jacqueline Wilber, Ed.D. is an experienced educator from South Dakota. She is currently a faculty member at the University of South Dakota and Director of the Center for Student and Professional Services in the School of Education.

She began her career in public schools in 2007 and has served as a teacher, librarian, and administrator. Jackie holds a Nebraska Teaching Certificate for 7-12 grade English/Language Arts, a Nebraska Public Library Certificate, and an Experienced Registered Yoga Teacher (e-RYT 500) credential through Yoga Alliance. She was a 2014 Sioux Falls School District Teacher of the Year Finalist.