The average South Dakota teacher makes just over $47,000 a year. The topic of teacher pay has been a hot button issue for the last several years.
Despite lower pay than many other careers requiring a four-year degree, teachers go out of their way, and out of their own pockets, to make sure school is special for kids. We take a look at different ways local teachers are giving back, and how you can help.
The classroom is like a second home for teachers and their students. Each year, some educators across the country use their own money to make that space even more special for kids.
“We have a class pet. She’s a tortoise named Sally. So they love her. They read to her. They sit by her and do their math,” said 1st Grade Teacher, Thea Feterl.
Extra dashes of fun, like Sally the Tortoise coming soon to Thea Feterl’s class, are not in the school budget. However, neither are extra school supplies, books to read, or comfy spots to sit during reading time. That’s when teachers start to dig into their own pockets.
“It’s definitely hard. I definitely spend more than I maybe would need to spend, because I just love them so much. And I want them to have the best experience they can have,” said Feterl.
This is Feterl’s second year teaching the first grade at Garfield Elementary School. She’s still trying to figure out the balance between giving her kids a great experience, and not going broke.
“I try to just think about, is it something we need to have? Or is it something that we maybe just want. A want and need, and that’s something that we talk about in first grade too as one of our standards. So I just try to teach myself that,” said Feterl.
Upstairs, Sara Gohman is also working on making her class feel safe and inviting.
“What I want for my kids, I expect that I would be giving that to other’s kids as well. And they’re in here a lot. They’re in here a long time throughout their day, as well as myself, so making it homey for them is nice, making it homey for me too,” said Sara Gohman, 5th Grade Teacher.
This is Gohman’s fifth year, and she has her own ways of sprucing up the atmosphere.
“We do different lighting, so different kinds of lamps to go around the room, just to make it kind of cozier. Then they have different kinds of seating they can use throughout the day. If we’re doing partner work, they can move around. There’s different kinds of chairs and stools,” said Gohman.
Both women say filling their rooms with fun and necessities really is a learning experience. They use hand-me-downs from other teachers, and donations from loved ones. There’s even a site just for teachers, called DonorsChoose.org.
“It’s kind of like GoFundMe for teachers, so you can make a project and then anonymous people from nearby, or across the country they can fund your project. So a lot of Sally’s stuff this year came from the project for that. So that’s really helpful too because it’s fun to see the generosity of people who don’t even know you,” said Feterl.
Feterl and Gohman believe the loving home away from home they’re building will help their students feel safe and inspired.
“It’s hard because you just want to give them world, but sometimes you just can’t do that,” said Feterl.
“It’s truly the reason why I do what I do. Like the kids that are here, they have a huge heart. And their families have a huge heart. So it’s a blessing,” said Gohman.
If you want to give your child’s teacher a gift they can actually use, both women we talked with say disinfecting wipes and basic school supplies, like pencils and folders, are the biggest help they can receive!