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     Teaching: “Teachers, I believe, are the most responsible and important members of society because their professional efforts affect the fate of the earth.” – Helen Caldicott, Australian physician and author

Twenty-four sets of eyes were watching as I introduced myself as their English teacher.

Everyone in the room was a freshman, including me.

It was my first teaching assignment out of college and my dream of sharing my love of words and literature was coming true at last.

Looking at the photos of new teachers in many newspapers across the state this past week reminded me of that first teaching day in the fall of 1969. I was nervous, excited and hopeful, and I’m sure today’s first-year teachers share those emotions.

The faces in the photos reflect an eagerness to help young people learn and grow and there is no greater calling. Without teachers, our society couldn’t move forward. We wouldn’t have a pipeline of new talent ready to step in when older workers move on to different pursuits. We wouldn’t be able to forge ahead in the fields of science, medicine and technology and make progress in all the areas required for our nation to survive.

Teachers are the linchpin for our nation’s success and our state’s, too. Which is why South Dakota, despite the tax increase to provide better pay for teachers, still has its challenges in filling certain positions.  Moreover, a new congressional study outlines a broader problem for our state: the brain drain. The continuing out-migration of educated young people continues.

They go to college here, then leave for perceived greener pastures, which in most cases means higher pay and a larger venue for entertainment.

I was one of those who left but came home — not as an English teacher, which wasn’t the best fit for me, but as a freshman newspaper reporter, which was perfect. The pay was actually worse, but the career combined my love for language and a keen interest in public affairs.

Moving over one career lane on the highway of life was a lucky break for me. I hope today’s freshmen teachers love what they do, but if they don’t, there are other options. That doesn’t mean our state doesn’t need a broader economy and better-paying jobs. We do. And I continue to believe that value-added agriculture is one of the best areas of expansion, which can include a technical side that would generate quality jobs.

That said, let’s not overlook all the positives this state offers, including good schools, clean air, low crime and a moderate cost of living.

It’s a good place to live.

Sept. 4, 2019