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Attracting and retaining Idaho teachers

Education starts with the parent, then transfers to the classroom. Good quality teachers, how do you get them to come to Idaho and then how do you keep them? What is the secret?

Education Week recently ranked Idaho as 48th in k-through-12 education. We’ve all seen and heard the television ad that says this is not a passing grade.

To find out how to turn this around, Eyewitness News Anchor Todd Kunz went straight to the top, Idaho State Superintendent of Education, Tom Luna.

“What are you doing to keep Idaho teachers in Idaho?” said Kunz.

“Well, I think there are a number of things and obviously one of the way we compensate teachers is one of those. We need a way of paying teachers a base and that’s on how many years they’ve taught and the amount of education, but there has to be other factors that they bring to the table that we recognize and compensate them for. I think that is how we’re going to get teacher compensation up to where it needs to be to keep the best and brightest here in the state,” said Luna

As things stand right now, the struggling education landscape in Idaho is no secret. Younger students, starting out in the profession, already have a bad impression of Idaho classrooms. Jeff Cannon will finish his degree in education in May 2014 as a secondary social sciences teacher.

“Will you be teaching in Idaho?” Kunz asked.

“I have no desire to teach in Idaho. There’s no respect for teachers,” said Cannon.

Luann Denning is a teacher of 35 years, mostly in the first grade. She is retiring a year early, because of Common Core demands and the current attitude toward Idaho education. She agrees with Cannon.

“Not everybody can be a teacher. I feel like it’s a very important job and I think it needs to be respected,” said Denning.

“If you were superintendent, how do you fix the problem? How do you keep Idaho teachers here and how do you attract teachers from out of state to come here?” Kunz asked Cannon.

“You leave teaching and education to the teachers and the administrators. You keep politcs out of it. You say, how is this going to affect a student’s life? Is it going to make it better or worse?” said Cannon.

“I think the state leader should be an educator because they know how teachers feel. They know what a classroom is like. They know what it takes to make a classroom,” said Denning.

“We have a superintendent who has never taught in school. His only qualification is he was a businessman before, that’s it,” said Cannon.

“How do you fix Idaho education?” Kunz asked Denning.

“I really don’t know, but I think funding needs to go to the schools. I think it’s very important whether that would be more lottery money going toward the schools as promised,” said Denning.

“Why is it upside down?” Kunz asked Luna.

“Well you mentioned Wyoming earlier. We have to remember that Wyoming hit the natural resources lottery. We have that potential in Idaho. I mean, we are finding the natural gas and those kinds of things. You know, we could have a moment like Wyoming,” said Luna.

Luna said Idaho has fewer taxpayers per student than most other states.

“For example, in Massachusetts, only about nine percent of their population is in the k-12 school system. In Idaho, it’s almost twice that amount,” said Luna.

He said Massachusetts has smaller families, and more taxpayers per student. In Idaho, there are larger families and fewer taxpayers per student.

“That affects the amount of money you’re going to spend per child,” said Luna.

“Why did you dedicate 35 years of your life to doing this?” Kunz asked Denning.

“Because I love kids. I love to teach them. I love to see the growth,” said Denning.

“When you choose teaching as a profession, you do it because you love kids. You do it because you want to make a difference,” said Cannon.

“It’s just amazing the miracle you see in first grade,” said Denning. “It just warms my heart, makes me feel happy,” she said.

Denning said the biggest thing that has changed over her years, is technology in the classroom. She started in 1978 with one Commodore 64 computer shared by everybody and she would have to program it to get it to work for the students. As for her future, she plans to spend time with her new nine-month old grandson, who she said, will be reading before he goes to school. She also plans to volunteer for other teachers to help pick-up the slack from cutbacks to music and P-E.

As for Jeff Cannon’s future, he is looking at Tennessee, North Carolina, and Alabama. He said his research shows there is more incentive to teach there.

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