Lack of respect fuels teacher shortage according to those who have left jobs

Lack of respect fuels teacher shortage according to those who have left jobs Everett and Vickie Schulz made a difficult decision last spring. These mid-career teachers left their positions in the music department in the Sioux Falls School District for positions in the MacCray School District, a much smaller school in Minnesota. Why did these South Dakota natives leave after a combined total of almost 40 years of teaching in their home state? For the Shulzes, the decision came down to a lack of respect and support for their program coupled with better salaries and benefits.

The Schulzes say that in Sioux Falls, there was a growing lack of administrative support and recognition of the problems teachers face every day. "We faced a lack of classroom space, large class sizes, and having to set up and tear down a teaching setting two or three times a day because we worked in three or four different buildings," says Vickie Schulz. "Because of the lack of music classrooms, the space for music classes was usually not designed with music in mind. One year during a construction project, I taught 13 elementary band students in a closet where the only light was a plug-in trouble light."

Everett Schulz says that the lack of investment in education sends a bad message. "The inadequate funding of education in South Dakota tells students that their education is not a priority. Low teacher pay, lack of respect for teachers as professionals, failed bond issues and cutting and watering down programs all send students a message. Why should students feel that test scores are important when they see evidence daily that students and teachers appear to be viewed by their community and the state as an expenditure rather than an investment?"

The Schulzes say there is a different attitude about education in their new school district. "This community is making a commitment to the fine arts program and to the students. The motto of the elementary school is 'Caring for Kids'," says Vickie Schulz. "Unfortunately, we don't hear that very often in South Dakota anymore."

The Schulzes say that leaving South Dakota was a difficult decision. They are also quick to point out that they are not bitter about their experience in South Dakota. They had simply reached a point where, in the words of Vickie Schulz, "We felt we could not do our job as we felt it should be done. We were in a situation where we were doing what we could instead of what we should."

Everett Schulz adds, "We didn't want to leave. We were born and raised in South Dakota. But we had to do what was best for our family. When we aren't allowed to do our best because of the situation we are in, we need to make changes for our emotional and professional health and well being."

The Schulzes say that better pay and benefits were a factor in their decision but not the only factor. "Each of us received a salary increase of about $4,000 and the insurance coverage in our new school district is much better. The school district also paid the majority of our moving expenses. They made us feel that we were wanted," said Everett Schulz. "However, we probably wouldn't have been thinking about other jobs if we had felt that we were valued and respected for what we wanted to do for the kids we were teaching."

Elaine Roberts, president of the South Dakota Education Association (SDEA) says that Everett and Vickie Schulz are typical of mid-career teachers leaving South Dakota. "Almost every school district I visit has their own 'Everett and Vickie Schulz' story," says Roberts. "South Dakota is losing teachers who are at the peak of their careers."

Roberts says that is difficult for South Dakota school districts to compete when they need to replace mid-career teachers. SDEA believes that increased competition will make it even more difficult in the future. Statistics from the 1997-98 school year, the latest information available, indicate that 56 percent of the teachers in South Dakota will be eligible for retirement within 15 years.

Roberts sees that as a big challenge. "Over half of the teachers in the state are nearing retirement and it will be a huge challenge to replace them," says Roberts. "The teacher shortage isn't limited to South Dakota. We have to compete for teachers with other states and the big question is, are we in a position to be competitive? In the case of Everett and Vickie Schulz, the answer was no."

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