SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — South Dakota is bucking a national trend of teachers quitting in search of better working conditions and higher pay, despite the state's poor reputation for compensating educators.
National Education Association surveys have shown that about half of the teachers in the U.S. quit within five years after earning their degrees. In South Dakota, only about one-fourth of teachers leave in their first five years in the profession, according to the Argus Leader newspaper.
"It does demonstrate that teachers in South Dakota seem more essentially satisfied with the nature of their work than might occur in other places," said Jack Warner, executive director of the state Board of Regents.
South Dakota's average annual teacher salary is $39,850, the lowest in the country, according to the NEA.
"It's not the money" that is keeping teachers in the profession, said Sandy Arseneault, president of the South Dakota Education Association. "I would have to say it's the fact that South Dakota is a great place to live and a great place to teach."
However, the smaller class sizes that appeal to many teachers are getting larger in South Dakota because of budget cuts, Arseneault said. There also is less money for supplies, she said, and more pressure to meet national education standards.
"The more we take away the supports, the harder it's going to be for teachers," Arseneault said. "When you have all these things coming at you, it would be easy to say, 'Forget it. I'm done.' "
Amy Weber, a middle school language arts teacher in Sioux Falls, said she has watched colleagues walk away for various reasons, but the job itself keeps her in the profession even in the face of pay cuts and low funding.
"I have one student in particular from my first year teaching middle school who visits every year," Weber said. "He's allowed me to still be a part of his life, and it means so much. That's why I am a teacher."