By: Jordan Fremstad
WEST SALEM, Wis. (WKBT) – The need for teachers continues to affect school districts throughout Wisconsin. A News 8 Investigative Report shows La Crosse Colleges have fewer students graduating with an education degree.
Viterbo has had a 25 percent decline in elementary education in the past 10 years. Some retired teachers are stepping back in the classroom to help local schools fill the need for educators.
“It’s a 24-hour job, seven days a week,” said Cindy Bird, a substitute teacher at West Salem Elementary School. “Here I am still working.”
Bird’s teaching career spans two decades.
“I taught fourth grade in Sparta Wisconsin for 23 years,” Bird said.
Now retired, Bird is back in a classroom as a substitute teacher in a time where new teachers are hard to find.
“You hear it from everywhere,” Bird said.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, the number of people graduating with bachelor’s degrees in the University of Wisconsin System in elementary education has declined by 23 percent between 2006 and 2017.
“When a job does get posted there are fewer people who are qualified who do apply for those,” said Ryan Rieber, principal at West Salem Elementary School.
Bird said the reason is because of the new nature of the job.
“It’s mentally and physically exhausting,” Bird said.
Teachers are now dealing with more than English and math.
“A lot of them are coming with a lot of emotional baggage that you have to get through first,” Bird said. “Often nowadays, teaching comes second.”
It’s former educators like Bird who help take that pressure off the teachers who are in the classroom making a difference for tomorrow’s community.
“Cindy is one of those people who came back time and time again and she’s filled an awful lot of roles for us,” Rieber said. “We wouldn’t be where we are at today without people like Cindy.”
It’s that caring mentality you must to be a hero with no cape but the power to inspire.
“How to be a good citizen. How to be a good person,” Bird said. “They need good role models for that.”
Rieber said they have to take advantage of every minute they have with children.
‘We get 178 days with our kids and we have 178 days to make those times that we get to have with all of your kids important,” Rieber said.
Bird said when you do what you love, you just know.
“I guess I was supposed to do it,” Bird said.
She said it can make a big impact.
“If you can see a little kid brighten up with that big glow on their face, it’s worth it,” Bird said.
School officials at West Salem Elementary said the new teachers they hire are as strong of educators as ever despite the lower number of applicants they receive.
School officials said they will continue to work with local universities to continue inspiring more students to pursue a career in education.
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