Each of us has had a teacher who inspired us, molded our character, or challenged our thinking.  For me, it was my first grade teacher, Mrs. Tetzlaff.  From the first day of class, I could tell she cared more about what we took away from the lesson than making sure we got a perfect score on a test. She taught me to love school early – something I benefited from throughout my education. 

A child’s teacher may be the single most important factor in how they will perform academically.  In fact, the RAND Corporation, a leading research group, found that “when it comes to student performance on reading and math tests, a teacher is estimated to have two to three times the impact of any school factor, including services, facilities, and even leadership.”

We are very blessed in South Dakota.  Just two months ago, I had the chance to meet with two of South Dakota’s greatest educators.  Erin March from Pierre Indian Learning Center and Ann Anderson from Belle Fourche Middle School each earned the 2014 Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching.  This is the nation’s highest honor for math and science teachers, and I am so proud that two of this year’s honorees hailed from the Rushmore State.

Great teachers, like Erin and Ann, set our students up for success well beyond the classroom.  Researchers at Harvard University and Columbia University found in 2012 that students who had great teachers in fourth through eighth grade were more likely to attend college, earn higher wages, live in better neighborhoods, and save money than their counterparts who had poor teachers.

Conversely, the study found that students miss as much as 40 percent of the school year if they’re being taught by a poorly organized or unfocused teacher.  A good teacher can make all the difference in the world – and in many cases, they play a major role in changing our world.

Our education system is the single most important tool we have in controlling the future success of our democracy, ensuring universal freedom and securing the promise of the American Dream for generations. As such, it’s critical to foster, encourage, and empower good educators who give students the tools they need to be independent thinkers and pro-active citizens. 

These educators put the ladder of upward mobility in front of their students, opening doors that were previously shut and enabling students to choose their own career path. 

They make students crave all forms of learning, so that whether the student is in the classroom or the boardroom, they can succeed.

These educators set high expectations for their students and even higher expectations for themselves.  They carve the path toward prosperity for our young people, but also our communities and our country.

These educators deserve our respect, gratitude and admiration.  The first week of May has been designated as National Teacher Appreciation Week.  Whether you’re a student, a parent, or a member of the community, show your appreciation for our educators today.

We have incredible teachers here in South Dakota.  I thank them for all they do for our kids.  They have one of the most important jobs in the world.  Keep up the good work!

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