Connections: Linking Talented Educators
Connections: Linking Talented Educators

Growing Our Own Teachers in South Dakota

July 11, 2018

By Gina Benz (SD ‘15)

[Update, January 2019: The video above captures the excitement around South Dakota's new Teacher Pathway program in its first year. We hoped that 15 students would sign up at my school; in fact, we ended up with 44 here, and 150 throughout the district!]

I'm starting an exciting new project this year: helping South Dakota solve its teacher shortage problem.

For the upcoming school year, I have helped develop and will teach two new classes for high school students who want to explore a career in education. Through the new Teacher Pathway, I will mentor and nurture these future teachers through college and into their careers. My goal: to have an exponential impact on the future of education in my state.

Teacher Pathway started as a way to increase our district's pool of teacher applicants. According to our superintendent, teachers are highly likely to teach near their hometowns. We want to grow our own teachers! We also want to increase the diversity of our faculty, so an additional goal is to introduce students from underrepresented races and cultures to the idea of being teachers. As I talk with students, I'm continuously surprised at how many have never considered a career in education.

That second goal especially thrills me. I'm currently reading Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools, and although the author states often that a connection with any teacher can make a significant difference in a black girl's education, imagine how powerful it is for students to learn in classrooms helmed by people of their own race, leading honorable professional lives that hold education sacred.

Gina Benz Teacher Pathway 1000w4

After the idea for the Teacher Pathway was put in motion about a year ago, the Sioux Falls School District selected one teacher from each of our four high schools to develop and teach the courses. We hoped each school would have 15 to 20 students register, so we were blown away to see more than double that at each high school. In my own building, Roosevelt High School, 50 students registered for the Teacher Pathway! I am so excited to mentor and encourage these future teachers not only while in my class but through college and into their careers. When I think about the multiplier effect these courses will have, it takes my breath away.

The curriculum is designed to cover all the topics covered in a foundational education course in college: pedagogy, history of education, classroom management, assessment, cultural responsiveness, etc. Because the courses are so comprehensive, three local colleges have agreed to provide college credit to our students who complete the full year. Besides our work in the classroom, students will also complete observations and help in a local elementary school once a week. We will take a field trip each semester, bring in outside speakers and panels, and do lots of reading, research, discussion and reflection.

The new Teacher Pathway program is bringing South Dakota’s Milken Educator family together, too. Karen Lukens (SD '02), who will return to a second-grade classroom this fall at Oscar Howe Elementary in Sioux Falls,  will be one of the elementary teachers partnering with the Teacher Pathway program. My high school students will have the privilege of observing and working with her in her classroom once a week, and I will have the privilege of collaborating with her.

This is what the Milken Award is all about: working together to inspire the next generation of outstanding educators. I’d love to hear from other Milken Educators who are interested in developing a program like this. My MEA bio has all my contact information—don’t hesitate to reach out.


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