Who will they remember?

“Don’t you ever ask them, ‘Why?’
If they told you, you would cry
So just look at them and sigh
And know they love you”

“Teach Your Children” — Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young

Five Hundred.

More than 500 openings were listed with the South Dakota Department of Education as the month turned to June, a number that had never been experienced before.

No, not 500 total openings for all teaching, administrative, professional, and other staff positions within the 899 accredited K-12 schools in the state.

That’s just the number of teaching positions open in the state.

Sure, there can be the jokes of teacher pay in South Dakota, which is still more than $10,000 behind the national average salary, but South Dakota, to the state’s credit, has moved up from 51st (including the District of Columbia) in teacher pay roughly a decade ago, to 48th.

This shows up in a study that was recently done by WalletHub.

In 2015, South Dakota ranked 48th among best states to work as a teacher according to the survey’s composite scoring. Five years later, the state ranked 42nd. Still significantly low, but definitely a trend in the right direction.

That survey was done before the last few years, however.

Police lament recruiting new officers in the modern environment, discussing how the police are vilified by news and social media.

Those upset about anyone who would have negative stereotypes of the police fight back with blue-striped flags (just so you know, I checked, officers will still pull you over if you have one of those in your car window).

All the while, teachers are feeling equal or even more intense pressure in doing their daily work.

Misinformation has riled up the public against those who are teaching our children, leading to intense distrust in what is being said and done in the classroom and overreach from every angle.

Parents want…or more accurately, demand…to know every sentence that will be taught their child in school, to ensure nothing violates their personal beliefs.

School boards outlaw books, restrict teaching styles, and attempt other classroom controls.

Legislation is proposed at the state and even national level to limit what can be taught in the classroom.

Much of this is under the guise of “protection of children” from certain values that are being taught or certain history that is being taught because a talking head on a news network said it was happening all over.

Except it’s not.

It’s clickbait, ratings-driving, hysteria nonsense.

Worst of all, it’s driving great teachers out of teaching and it’s causing potentially amazing teachers to never consider taking up the profession.

Those of us in a certain era at Wolsey were blessed to go through school with teachers who had been in their respective positions at the school for decades.

My youngest brother was a kindergartner my senior year. He had many of the same teachers in his time at Wolsey that I had in my time.

Those teachers spent a lifetime at one school, dedicating themselves to hundreds of students and investing into a community because of their passion for the calling of teaching.

What is fun to see is just how many were inspired by those Wolsey teachers and became teachers themselves, a generational legacy that can truly be traced back for years and years.

I recall the notebook that Marlys Diegel kept in her classroom of every child that she had ever taught and how she delighted in teaching multiple generations by the time she retired.

Imagine the “teaching tree” that could be started from her classroom with the dozens of teachers inspired directly by her over her decades of teaching to the hundreds of teachers inspired by those teachers, and so on.

Except now, great teachers are strongly considering their future in the profession.

Give a child a disciplinary assignment because the child was disrupting the classroom  and a parent calls to complain.

Encourage a book report on other cultures — a social media post with the assignment goes viral, and the school board steps in to stop you from “teaching reverse racism.”

It really turns into a constant defense of the daily work that you do, when the real goal that you set out to do is to influence young people and guide them, if only for a short moment in time.

My wife and I have been (over)users of school communication apps to keep in touch with our children’s teachers. We are also more than willing to exchange cell phone numbers to keep in touch via text message.

It doesn’t have to be a constant bouquet of flowers delivered to the school to show appreciation, but a simple “thank you” to a teacher for keeping us informed on goings-on within the classroom is something that certainly is the least that can be done.

And those flowers, or a box of candy, or something extra-nice wouldn’t hurt once in a while as well.

More than anything, we need to encourage our teachers by encouraging our school boards and encouraging our legislators to let teachers teach.

We’re already seeing it in the amount of openings in the current generation of teachers, but if this generation of teachers isn’t coming in to school each day showing their passion for the classroom, who will inspire the next generation of teachers, and the generation after that…and after that…?

It makes you wonder the society that we truly value when we displace teachers in such a way.

Lee Iacocca once was quoted as saying, “In a completely rational society, the best of us would be teachers, and the rest of us would have to settle for something else.” (emphasis added)

Who will be the names that this generation will remember fondly at class reunions if we drive them all away?

More to the point, how do we expect the next generation to develop the critical skills needed for success in life without passionate teachers to guide them?


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