Editor’s note: This is the first article in a five-part series, exploring South Dakota’s teacher shortage and the myriad of ways school districts, colleges and the state are attempting to solve that shortage.
There’s a teacher shortage in Sioux Falls, in South Dakota and across the nation.
But, none of this is “new news,” Becky Dorman, the human resources director for the Sioux Falls School District, said at a September Downtown Sioux Falls Rotary meeting. The shortage was exacerbated by the pandemic, by politics and by workforce trends of fewer people going into the service industry, Dorman said.
Peak teacher job openings have increased by 200 over the last five years. Compared with the rest of the nation, South Dakota falls in the middle of states experiencing teacher shortages, according to a USA TODAY data analysis of teacher-student ratios to identify potential shortages.
The pandemic, for example, gave people an opportunity to reexamine what they were interested in doing, she said.
“I do think we are seeing educators looking at other opportunities, because right now, there are just so many opportunities for employment, even here in Sioux Falls,” Dorman told the Argus Leader on Sept. 26. “Who wouldn’t want to hire a teacher? They’re intelligent, organized and well-spoken.”
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Teaching is hard, and the profession can take a lot from a teacher in the nine to 10 months they spend in the classroom each year, including working long hours, creating lesson plans and curriculum maps, working with student behavior issues and working with parents, said Anna Schwan, interim dean and associate professor in the Millicent Atkins School of Education at Northern State University.
Is there a teacher shortage in South Dakota? Here’s what the data tells us.
During the 2022-2023 school year, about 175 teacher vacancies went unfilled across the state of South Dakota.
That forced districts to get creative with staffing. In Sioux Falls, for example, the district moved some instructional coaches back into classrooms and supported teachers seeking alternative certifications. In Brandon Valley this year, the district has had to delay hiring of some positions and let some vacant positions go unfilled.
We can’t count how many teacher positions went unfilled at this point in the school year since more people could be hired before school ends in May 2024, but we do have historical data showing how many teaching positions have been listed in the Associated School Boards of South Dakota Teacher Placement Center throughout recent years.
Teacher position listings usually peak between March and April. In the 2018-2019 and 2019-2020 school years, more than 300 postings were open at that time of year, while in the last three school years, more than 500 positions have been open at that time of year.
More teachers are leaving the profession than in years past
Resignations also contribute to the shortage. In a school board work session Aug. 28, Dorman said 20% of the 131 teachers who resigned from the Sioux Falls School District last year left the profession altogether, which is a higher percentage than the district has seen so far.
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Education Secretary Joe Graves said in September that right now, teachers are leaving because of an increase in student behavior, as well as cultural effects from COVID-19, the judicial response to young offenders and compensation.
Before COVID-19, some teachers worked past their retirement date and stayed in the profession well after they could’ve retired, but when COVID-19 hit, teachers retired or retired early, said Amy Schweinle, Dean of the School of Education at the University of South Dakota.
“We had a lot of people leave all of a sudden, and we didn’t have enough people ready to enter into the profession,” Schweinle said. “Coupled with universities going virtual and fewer people going into college, both of those things led to a sudden shortage that had to be filled, and we just couldn’t do it.”
Teacher pay contributing to South Dakota’s shortage
Schwan and David De Jong, Dean of the College of Education at Dakota State University, said another issue contributing to the teacher shortage is low teacher pay.
South Dakota continues to rank last or near last in annual rankings from the National Education Association’s assessment of teacher salaries across the U.S. South Dakota ranked 49th in the nation in the latest NEA rankings from the 2021-2022 fiscal year.
Teaching requires a degree, which requires tuition and student loans. An undergraduate resident at one of the six public four-year universities in South Dakota pays about $16,810 a year for college, and ends up with an average of $28,218 in student loan debt upon graduation, according to the latest South Dakota Board of Regents factbook.
After that, teachers join the profession not making as much as other professionals who require the same kind of degree, De Jong and Schwan explained.
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Their assertion is backed up by data from Our Dakota Dreams which shows that the mid-range annual salary for a teacher is $38,600 to $51,400, compared to careers in other fields requiring a bachelor’s degree, such as a financial and investment analyst ($60,100 to $93,700), compliance manager and regulatory affairs manager ($73,300 to $128,000), or registered nurse ($51,600 to $70,000). Our Dakota Dreams also projects annual teacher openings at 878.
The state needs to continue looking at teacher compensation, Sioux Falls School District Superintendent Jane Stavem said in an Aug. 28 school board work session.
“You can’t be last or near last and expect that that’s going to continue to work over time,” Stavem said. “The (DOE) has been trying to help with that with certification and getting people to get certified so they can come and teach, but that’s treating a symptom. We have to get to the root of that.”
If you’re a teacher who has left the profession, we’d love to hear from you about why as we continue to report on this statewide issue. Email education reporter Morgan Matzen to reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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