Welcome to My Class: New Teachers
First-grade teacher Emily Duelge is a brand new teacher at Rawson Elementary School – but she’s no stranger to the school. Duelge (Pronounced DULL-GEE) is a South Milwaukee alum, attended Rawson Elementary School, and is teaching in the classroom next door to where she sat when she was a first grader.
“Being a student here and now coming in as a staff member … has been eye-opening – Something I never expected I would be doing,” Duelge said.
She’s a little relieved that she’s not in the exact same room she was a student in.
“Even now, when I walk into that classroom, I can still picture where my first-grade teacher had the posters. Where I sat. Where our rug was,” Duelge said. “With the new technology and stuff that is in the classroom it’s not exactly how it looked, but I am thankful that I can still be in that first-grade group where I grew up, but I am not in the same room that I grew up in. I get to kind of make (my room) my own, but it still feels like home.”
Duelge is one of the teachers hired over the summer to replace retirees and fill positions needed this year.
“We have a really interesting group of new teachers this year,” said Jennifer Sielaff, Director of Personnel, Administrative & Legal Service. “We have teachers whose first job will be with us here in south Milwaukee and teachers who have been in the profession for more than a decade. We have teachers moving back to Wisconsin from neighboring states and from southern states, and some of our new teachers have actually worked for us for many years as either a paraprofessional or as a substitute teacher. One teacher even spent last semester student teaching in Alaska and chose South Milwaukee as her new district.”
One thing that Sielaff said is that South Milwaukee is in the same boat as other area districts. Teachers are leaving for other opportunities or retiring, and it’s been harder lately to find and attract teachers to the district.
According to the non-partisan Wisconsin Policy Institute, turnover between 2009 and 2023 averaged 11.5 percent in Wisconsin. In 2022-23 that figure jumped to 15.8 percent.
“All across the state it’s been harder to hire teachers the last several years,” Sielaff said. That has meant changing tactics or recruiting in different ways.
“We advertise, we go to job fairs, we rely on word-of-mouth, we get references from others in the district and out of the district to find just the right candidates for us here in South Milwaukee.”
Indeed, South Milwaukee’s new superintendent, Deidre Roemer, wasn’t looking for a new job until she said she was encouraged to apply by former South Milwaukee employees who knew she’d be a great fit.
Duelge said she thought it was a sign that after all her interviews at various districts, South Milwaukee called first to offer her the job.
“We really need to be efficient and quick on our feet with the shortage in educational staff members,” Sielaff said. “And we need to start as soon as we can and get our information out there. That’s a big part of the hiring process.”
Justline Lesperance reads to her second grade students.
For Justine Lesperance, a veteran teacher who relocated to Wisconsin from Florida, South Milwaukee’s commitment to serving all students and removing barriers to their education was a draw. Also, her husband’s grandparents lived here and he had great memories of the city. It was just the right fit. She’s starting the 14th year of her teaching career as Blakewood Elementary’s newest second-grade teacher.
“We had our first child in May, and (my husband and I) had been waiting to kind of get out of Florida for a while. Having our first child brought us back home because we wanted her to meet and know her family,” Lesperance said.
She’s excited to be back in Wisconsin and to start in South Milwaukee.
“[In the classroom] you’re meeting all the kids where they’re at and what they need. I like watching my students learn and persevere through those struggles and holding them to high expectations,” Lesperance said. “When that light bulb goes on for somebody who’s been struggling with a concept, that’s really rewarding. I can’t wait to see that this year.”
- District News