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Boone Grove High School senior Ryleigh Pierce and Lake Central High School senior Hope Ciarrocchi both yearn to become teachers.

Both have heard about some of the challenges facing teachers today in Indiana including linking student standardized test scores to teacher evaluations, and teacher pay not keeping up with the cost of living.

Both teens have wanted to be teachers since they were small, and have played school with younger siblings and friends.

Pierce assists weekly in Johanna Knoop's second-grade class at Porter Lakes Elementary School in the Porter Township School Corp.

Ciarrocchi works daily in Cindy Sweeney's kindergarten classroom at Homan Elementary School in the Lake Central School Corp.

Ryleigh Pierce

Pierce, 17, said she has wanted to be a teacher since she was a little girl. She comes from a large family and has two younger brothers whom she played school with using her school books and a dry erase board.

"Some of my earliest role models were my teachers," she said with a wide smile as children gathered around her in the back of the class where she re-teaches a concept and helps to correct their work.

Pierce also acts as an assistant teacher at her church, and she works at My School Child Care and Learning Center, a daycare in Crown Point.

"I think it's really rewarding to work with younger children," she said.

"I love seeing how each kid learns and how each one is different. I love watching the different personalities. The younger kids are so excited to come to school and learn, and it makes me excited to come over here."

Pierce plans a possible major in education and child development. She said she also is interested in becoming a Child Life Specialist.

That is a pediatric health care professional who works with children and families in hospitals and other settings to help them cope with the challenges of hospitalization, illness and disability. They also work with family members.

Watching Pierce working with the second-graders, Knoop said, "Ryleigh is a natural. She is so good with the children. When they need re-teaching, I can send them over to her. When they are feeling a little lost, they can go and talk to her, and she can get them back on track. She is the future of teaching."

Hope Ciarrocchi

Ciarrocchi, 18, said she plans to major in elementary education and is taking advantage of working with Sweeney, who was her kindergarten teacher.

"It's definitely hard to be a teacher," she said.

"The discipline part of it is hard. Each kid is different and how they react to a situation is different. You want to help them and teach them things. The little kids are so much fun. You can be working with them on a certain subject and all of a sudden, one will say, 'my mom has an umbrella,' and you have to get them back on the subject."

Caryn O'Hara, physical education and cadet teaching trainer, said a couple of years ago Lake Central schools began offering the Cadet Teacher Trainer as a class where students can earn credit.

"We reach out to our students as juniors and seniors to find out if anyone is interested in becoming a teacher," she said. "They are in the classroom working with teachers for two to three hours every day, and it's part of their class schedule."

O'Hara said the cadet teachers are excited to go into the classroom, and are assigned to an elementary or middle school building. "They are developing the passion and getting excited about being a teacher," she said.

Sweeney said Ciarrocchi helps her with everything she does with her kindergartners.

"We work together to get things ready for them when they're at lunch or in music or art. She has learned how to make the appropriate activities for our grade level. She's learned how I find material to supplement what we do in the classroom," Sweeney said.

She said the teacher in the classroom next door to her is also a former student who returned to her former school district.

"I've been teaching 36 years," Sweeney said. "I think it is harder to attract teachers to the field because the salary is not very competitive. Our benefits used to be really good, but that's changed over the years.

"When I first started in this field, there was so much respect for teachers. Parents were so supportive, and I've watched all of that change. I used to have a lot of parent volunteers in the classroom, but everybody works and we've got more single parents and they can't give up a day of work. It's gotten harder to do what I do every day. I am so happy to have her (Ciarrocchi) in the classroom," Sweeney said.

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Southlake County Reporter

Carmen is an award-winning journalist who has worked at The Times newspaper for 20 years. Before that she also had stints at The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss., The Post-Tribune and The News Dispatch in Michigan City.