by Anna Jauhola and Wendy Royston, Dakotafire Media
Perhaps the answer to South Dakota’s teacher shortage doesn’t lie in recruiting this year’s high school seniors to the profession or retaining next year’s education grads within our borders. Maybe the answer is sitting in homes and in offices throughout our state, already engaging with youth.
“Being a teacher was not an option because of the pay” when Angie Baszler was in college. “I was going to do something that made a lot more money, because money was the most important thing, but when you have children, you realize that that is not the most important thing.”
Now 34, Baszler is entering what she calls her “encore career” and thinks other stay-at-home-moms might make good teachers, too.
“Moms who are returning (to work)—and who were able to be a stay-at-home-mom—might not be doing it for the money,” she said. “If we can’t change pay, then we need to figure out how to get people who are excellent teachers to go back and do it for something other than the money.”
Equipped with both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in business, Baszler struggled to work 60 hours per week as the foundation director for Avera McKennan Hospital in Sioux Falls, S.D., while being the kind of mom she envisioned for her children. So her family moved to DeSmet, S.D., where Jason Baszler was raised, so she could stay home with the children, offer them a slower-paced upbringing, and work part-time in economic development. Now, as her children are entering school, her priorities again are shifting, and she wants to go back to work full-time, but still be able to be on her children’s schedule. And teaching will allow her to work in a different realm of community development.
“Not only can I put my kids first,” as a teacher, but “I can the put the kids in my community first as well,” Baszler said. “I really want to have an impact on students while they’re still moldable,” to help foster an appreciation for the opportunities available in DeSmet, as well as to show them how to become effective leaders who can help shape the future of the community. And “I want my children to be able to take advanced education classes, even though they live in a small town.”
Jeanette Remily, who has taught in her “encore career” the past 16 years, after spending 30 years raising children and helping run the family’s grocery store in Britton, S.D., encourages women like Baszler to follow their dreams.
“Don’t hesitate for a minute,” she said. “Try it. It can be the most rewarding job you could do in your life.”
Finding the funds to further their education
While someone who hasn’t recently worked full-time may not be as apt to complain about South Dakota’s average starting teacher pay of just under $30,000, the investment in order to begin earning can be a major hindrance in pursuing encore teaching careers.
Though Baszler, who graduated toward the top of her Yankton High School graduating class in 1999, would have qualified for full-ride scholarships to become a teacher fresh out of high school, she is footing a $12,000 bill to pursue two years of classwork and student-teaching to become a certified teacher at this juncture.
“That’s a lot—especially when you’re a stay-at-home-mom, convincing (your) husband,” she said. “I’m not getting a degree—I’m getting a teaching certificate—so I don’t qualify for scholarships.”
Baszler said she is thankful South Dakota’s public universities have made the endeavor easier by offering the coursework online, but suggested policymakers explore ways to make it more affordable.
“If our government leaders really, really wanted to provide good teachers, I think this is a great pool to get it from. They’re passionate moms who care about the education of their children, and who are really going to their ‘encore careers’ after they took a hiatus from their old careers and can go do this, but I think the financial impacts are a barrier.”
Financing was not a roadblock for Remily, who as an empty-nester was able to work part-time and use the proceeds from the sale of the grocery store to fund her education. For her, the biggest difficulty was attending classes with students three decades her junior. Even her professors were younger, she said.
Potential encore teachers also must consider their geography when taking the plunge into a new career. Baszler admitted there is no guarantee that she will be able to work in her kids’ school, but that she hoped it would happen for her. Remily sent out 30 resumes before landing a part-time teaching job in the Britton-Hecla School District in 1999.
“My son told me, ‘You have no experience,’” she said, but after one year, she was a full-time English and social studies teacher. She retired from Britton-Hecla in 2013 and moved to the Mitchell, S.D., area to be nearer to her son, who has a debilitating disease. Now 69, she anticipates retiring from St. Mary’s Catholic School in Salem, S.D., in the next few years.
“I told my principal I’m going to keep doing this until the day comes you can tell I’m mentally deteriorating,” she said with a laugh. “It is a vocation, a calling. … It’s not just a job.”
Editor’s Note: This is the third in a series on South Dakota’s teacher shortage. Read about the following other installments here: