Skip to Content

A look at the challenges facing teachers in Idaho, particularly rural districts

If you talk to any teacher, more often than not they would say they became a teacher because they love kids and wanted to make a difference.

“I just love teaching the younger grades,” said Ms. Paiten Morton, a first grade teacher at Terreton Elementary. “I love their personalities. They don’t care to tell you that you look like you had a rough morning, they just love you.”

“The kids that are out here are a genuine, honest, nice group of kids. They’re great to work with,” said Chet Packer, a 7th and 8th grade science teacher in the West Jefferson School District.

The problem many schools and states are seeing around the country, is this love only goes so far. More and more districts are fighting to get enough teachers to accept jobs, let alone keep them for more than a year or two. Idaho is no exception.

At the 2017 Idaho state legislative session, teacher hiring, retention, and salaries are some of the main topics of discussion. In an effort to boost teacher pay, law makers are expected to vote soon on the third installment of the new teacher career ladder. It’s a program where teachers can increase their salary if they meet certain criteria and educational levels.

According to Idaho Education News, state democrats say the pay increases with the ladder isn’t enough, especially in rural school districts.

To get more applicants and increase retention, Democrats recently introduced a bill that would pay for up to $12 thousand in student loan debt relief to any teacher that works in a rural school district for four years.

Dwight Richins, the superintendent for West Jefferson District 253 said while the funding increases and teacher programs are welcome, they’re only the first step in getting Idaho education where it needs to be. “We’ve only just started recovering since the recession,” said Richins. “Gradually it’s getting better. The problem is its going to take a long time.”

Teacher salary is often quoted as one of the big problems in getting teachers to work in Idaho. Right now the starting salary for Idaho teachers is a little over $30 thousand annually, with some districts paying a bit more if they can afford it. Meanwhile nearby Wyoming starts in the mid-40’s to low-50’s, depending on the district. Nevada also pays more, with starting teachers making around $44 thousand annually, according to

This is a problem for any school district near the state line is losing teachers to a neighboring state. “When a teacher can drive the same distance to teach in Jackson, Wyoming, and make significantly more money, it’s tough,” said David McDonald, the principal for West Jefferson High School.

Teachers say the low starting salary makes it difficult to make ends meet, particularly when you factor in the costs of a college degree and starting a family.

“My wife and I both teach,” said Chet Packer, a 7th and 8th grade science teacher who also has several kids. “My wife teaches in Idaho Falls and the districts are very similar. I mean, it’s rough. We both went to school and had student loans.”

Sometimes the new funding also comes new requirements and attached strings. Teachers we spoke to said it can make it difficult to focus on teaching when you have to focus on meeting so many requirements from people who haven’t stepped foot in a classroom. “I would like a little more understanding, I guess,” said Sheena Hawker, a 5th grade teacher at Terreton Elementary. “Not necessarily in dollar signs, I guess, just more support.”

Superintendent Richins said he believes its one reason why we’re seeing fewer people entering the teaching field. “The current situation is that we have a pool of teachers coming out of college is probably much lower than it’s been in a long time. So we really don’t have a lot of applicants,” said Richins.

Idaho’s rural school districts, like West Jefferson District 253, have especially been struggling to get teachers. The remoteness of these communities mean they typically get overlooked by new graduates who tend to prefer working in cities and suburbs.

Even if a new teacher does want to work for a rural district, a common problem faced by many is the lack of nearby housing. Teachers are forced to make the decision to accept a long commute or look somewhere else.

Another common problem among small rural districts is their small tax base. Many are able to get by with a bit of extra funding from a supplemental levy, but that’s no substitute for the larger business or population base that exists in bigger cities.

“It can be a real challenge to get and keep really talented teachers,” said McDonald, “Unless we have some sort of incentive that we can offer that other big districts can’t. It’s just difficult.”

McDonald said he loves his current crop of teachers, but knows that if the state doesn’t step up their game, he’ll be looking for to fill empty posts soon. “It kinda just seems the state is content towards being at the bottom, as long as we’re not dead last and we’re not embarrassing ourselves,” said McDonald. “You know what I would say is, if you want our state to grow and prosper over the next several generations, we need to invest.”

Article Topic Follows: News

Jump to comments ↓

Author Profile Photo

News Team


KIFI Local News 8 is committed to providing a forum for civil and constructive conversation.

Please keep your comments respectful and relevant. You can review our Community Guidelines by clicking here

If you would like to share a story idea, please submit it here.

Skip to content