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KATIE ZERR: Change of attitude needed on teacher pay

As the backpacks are loaded and slung across shoulders and tennis shoes are tied, children across the state are making their way to classrooms.
They gather on the playgrounds or in the commons area, greeting friends and talking about their summers and getting reacquainted with their school.
These are scary times for some of those little ones. They may be starting at a new school or are a bit shy and don’t have many friends to welcome them on the playground. For some, they don’t want to leave the protection of their home and their parents.
For others, school is a safety zone where they don’t have to live through the drama of their home lives. It is a place where they can have books read to them and where they feel the affection of people around them. These little ones need special attention and a kind hand to lead them through the day.
Who do these children depend on to help them feel safe and comfortable? Teachers. To some kids teachers are someone who will wrap them in a security blanket. School is somewhere where these kids can relax and be kids.
That is a heavy burden to put on the shoulders of people who choose teaching as a profession.
Teachers work hard to create a welcoming, safe, learning environment for students. They spend a good amount of their summer and a lot of their own money to make sure their classroom is a warm and inviting learning place for the children.
For many years the idea that teachers were paid a good salary and only worked nine months out of the year dominated discussion about teacher pay in South Dakota. Teachers had great benefits, when few others did. Teachers had three months of vacation while others worked year-round and some had no paid vacation.
Those days are gone for the most part, but the stigma that teachers are paid well for the nine months on the job still sticks.
Teachers do not spend three months of summer sipping iced tea and fishing on the lake. Most spend two of the three months taking more classes to further their education or learning the tools to teach with technology. They spend their summers preparing for a rigorous school year in which they have to deal with students of all types, parents who either spend too much time driving their children’s lives or those who are too busy with other things to be bothered.
Teachers have to be substitute parents to some, diplomats with others, disciplinarians, referees or psychologists and must have the tools to recognize a problem brewing within a child.
Teachers can be the first to see that children are not getting what they need at home. They see changes in a child that may signal something is wrong. Teachers can be the saviors for a child who is being neglected or abused. They seek intervention when they recognize signs that a child is being harmed.
Teachers and the support staff of our schools can be the people that children reach out to when there is no one at home they can depend on to take their hand.
It happens more than we realize.
A member of a school staff, from the people who prepare the meals and talk with kids each day, to those who administer the business of the schools, can be that anchor in the life of child who drifts without a keel.
We ask a lot of our teachers, our para-professionals, and administrative assistants and other support staff.  If one of these people make a difference in just one life of a child, they well-earn what they are being paid.
We all need to grow up a bit when viewing teachers and what they earn. Times have changed. Children and their parents have changed. Teachers, for what we ask them to do, are underpaid in South Dakota.
There is no way to get around that. Look at what other professionals are now making in this state. Compare the salaries and compare the jobs.  It is time to change the rhetoric. Not too many of those complaining over their coffee cups that teachers are overpaid have the fortitude or attitude to do the job that we expect our teachers to do.
It is time for all of us to recognize that we ask a lot from our teachers. Some families may not see the burden, but we have to remember that all not families are the same.
It is time for South Dakota to recognize that we ask our teachers to not have just one job, but many.
It is time for South Dakota to pay those teachers for the responsibility we give them.