Future teachers face pension uncertainty

Monica Kast

When Morgantown junior Allison Kurfiss came to WKU, she was enrolled in the pre-pharmacy concentration in the Ogden College of Science and Engineering. However, it wasn’t long before Kurfiss changed her major to middle grades math education and began the SKyTeach program.

“I always kind of knew I wanted to be a teacher,” Kurfiss said, later adding that she also knew that she “needed to become a teacher.”

For Kurfiss, having an impact on the lives of middle school students is “pivotal.”

“It’s important to me to be here for them and to encourage them to do whatever they want to be doing,” Kurfiss said.

However, in light of Kentucky’s pension crisis, Kurfiss said she does have some concerns about becoming a teacher.

“If I have to teach until I’m 65-years-old, I’m worried I’d be doing more of a disservice than teaching well,” Kurfiss said, citing a report done by the PFM Group, which recommended raising the retirement age for many employees to 65.

While many groups have expressed concern about the pension crisis, one group that has remained optimistic is future teachers.

Sam Evans, dean of WKU’s College of Education and Behavioral Sciences, said he has not heard much concern from students planning on becoming teachers about the pension crisis.

“I do not hear students commenting on the pension crisis,” Evans said. “However, that doesn’t mean that concern isn’t there.”

Evans said from his point of view, student’s passion for becoming a teacher outweighs concerns they may have about pay and benefits.

“Because of the passion that I observe in the work that they do and the comments that they make, the concept of pay and pensions, those do not surface in the conversation,” Evans said. “And those may not surface until they’ve completed their program of study…and they become a classroom teacher.”

Evans said the current pension crisis should be addressed in order to ensure that teachers are given a fair salary and “a reasonable income” upon retirement.

“Their role in society is extremely important,” Evans said. “We need to provide teachers a level of compensation where they can be financially stable and upon retirement, be able to have a reasonable income. I can’t say we’re doing either one of those right now.”

To those who may be concerned about entering a field in the midst of the pension crisis, Evans said students should find what they are passionate about and try to make a career out of that.

“You have to go with your passion,” Evans said. “If your passion is working with students, that’s what has to drive you.”

Hopkinsville senior Brandon Goodwin is a music education major and plans on teaching outside of Kentucky after graduating. His reason, however, has nothing to do with compensation and retirement for teachers in Kentucky.

“Music programs in Kentucky, the funding is awful,” Goodwin said.

Goodwin said he hopes to teach “somewhere where [music education] is more prominent.”

“I just want to get a job first, and I’ll worry about the logistics later,” Goodwin said.

Georgetown senior Maddie Hughes said she would consider teaching out-of-state, but wouldn’t move solely based on the pension system.

“I wouldn’t move just because of that,” Hughes said. “Anywhere you go, pay won’t be great.”

Hughes, also a music education major, said she wants to become a teacher because she is passionate about passing on her love of music.

“I liked performing and I’m passionate about music, but I’m more passionate about passing that passion on,” Hughes said.

Hughes said she hopes to work with community organizations on music education in the future. She said she feels that more conversations need to be had with future educators about the pension system and what will happen after graduation.

“We’re still in this zone of separation,” Hughes said. “This will affect us very soon. Maybe we won’t feel it until we’re in the field … but it’s something we should be having conversations about.”

Kurfiss said she thinks the Kentucky legislature should “take in the voice of current and future educators.”

“It’s not affecting them, per se,” Kurfiss said. “It’s affecting us.”

Despite her concerns about the pension system, Kurfiss said she has no plans to leave Kentucky to teach.

“I love Kentucky,” Kurfiss said. “I don’t ever plan on leaving Kentucky. It’s my home.”

News editor Monica Kast can be reached at 270-745-6011 or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @monica_kast.