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Finding the Next Generation of Teachers

South Dakota teachers are hitting retirement age faster than young teachers can be recruited. (Jerry Oster)
South Dakota teachers are hitting retirement age faster than young teachers can be recruited. (Jerry Oster)
February 27, 2017

PIERRE, S.D. -- A sales tax increase passed by the Legislature in 2016 gave South Dakota teachers substantial raises. That in turn helped schools recruit the teachers they needed to fill vacancies. Now, a report from the state Department of Education shows most of the state's teachers are nearing retirement age faster than first-year teachers are being recruited.

Mary McCorkle, president of the South Dakota Education Association, said the 2016 raises put off the retirement of some of those veteran teachers.

"We probably delayed that a little bit because it was very attractive and so teachers who may have retired stayed,” McCorkle said. "But that will come to an end, and we need to make sure that we are attracting new educators into the profession. That's a critical component of the work that we need to do."

According to the education department, the average national retirement age for teachers is 59, and more than one-third of South Dakota's full-time teachers are at least 51.

McCorkle said while the raises were welcome, they were only part of the solution. She said another part of the law set up a year-long student teaching program for college students.

"I think that's a really important part of preparation because it gives those incoming teachers a real good idea of what it's like to be in the classroom and to have that whole year of experience,” she said.

Another part of the law created a teacher mentor program. McCorkle said it is another good move to retain teachers - especially those who are younger.

"That will make a difference for retaining them, because that has been where we as a state - and a lot of states, it isn't unique to South Dakota - where we have had problems is, we bring people in but [in] two, three years they are gone,” McCorkle said.

On average, teachers in South Dakota have more than 14 years of experience, and the averages in many school districts are well above the state numbers.

Jerry Oster, Public News Service - SD