SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — South Dakota is facing a teacher shortage due in part to low salaries and large class sizes.

Recent estimates by the Department of Education put the number of open teaching positions in the state at more than 500, much higher than in previous years.

That’s why Dakota Wesleyan University hosted an event today to lift up the teaching profession and turn those declining numbers around.

“Our future teachers are in our schools right now, so how can we invest in them,” Educators Rising state director Travis Lape said.

More than 200 students from South Dakota, who either want to be a teacher or are considering a career in the classroom, took part in a program called ‘Educators Rising.

Rachael Spencer, who is attending Augustana University, is one of them.

“The selling point to be a teacher is every day is different, you get to make a difference in so many students’ lives you get to see them grow,” Spencer said.

Kyra Johnson is a junior at Harrisburg High School. She wants to be a music teacher.

“My middle school choir teacher really was very phenomenal really inspired me and really pushed me to be the best musician that I could be,” Johnson said.

‘Educators Rising’ is a national program that embraces the calling of teaching as a profession. Students get a chance to connect with others and ask questions about the profession.

“I’m curious as state director to know what is their perception of the teaching field in South Dakota, because I am convinced they have heard things that are changing their mind some way or the other,” Lape said.

The low pay in South Dakota has always been one reason students don’t go into education.

But longtime teachers, like Becky Roth of Mitchell who was today’s keynote speaker, says there’s so much more to the career that is rewarding.

“To me, it’s not about the money, it’s about the relationships and making an impact on our future generation and that’s why Educators Rising and these opportunities we are providing throughout our state is so critical and important and I’m just really appreciative that we are moving in this direction to celebrate how great education is,” Roth said.

“If we can focus on the positive things of education if we can focus on the excitement that we offer right here in South Dakota, to be an educator, to be in the profession; if we can uplift that profession now we start to open up those doors to our kids differently,” Lape said.

To learn more about Educators Rising and its mission, click here