Guest Commentary: Better pay and supports could solve the teacher shortage

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Introduced during Teacher Appreciation Week, Senate Bill 100 with Senate Amendment 1 looks to evaluate and review current teacher salaries in Delaware. Sponsored by Sen. Bryan Townsend, D-Newark, and supported by a wide array of legislators, the bill proposes the establishment of the Public Education Compensation Committee to review Delaware’s educator-compensation structure and its ability to compete with other regional school districts.

The bill, passed by the General Assembly and sent to Gov. John Carney for signature, requires the committee to develop a set of recommendations to establish a new compensation structure for educators. These recommendations must be presented and reviewed by the governor by fall of 2023.

While this bill does not guarantee or propose increases in educator salaries, it is the first step to opening the conversation and prioritizing improved teacher pay in the First State.

Why is this important?

We recently examined what education can learn from business when it comes to attracting and retaining employees. A critical tool in the toolbox for businesses is to adjust salaries to meet expectations and demand. In the current economy, we see this everywhere, with employees being attracted to new jobs with signing bonuses and increased wages. Teachers are no different, and Delaware needs to keep up — especially with shortages in most subject areas.

Delaware currently ranks behind all of our neighboring states in both starting salaries and average salaries for teachers. We currently pay our starting teachers an average of $6,000 less than Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Maryland and are in the position to get even further behind. By 2026, all Maryland school districts will be required to offer a minimum of $60,000 starting salary for all teachers. In average salaries, our state is $9,000 below surrounding states.

These disparities have consequences. Data provided by the Delaware Department of Education showed that, in 2021, 40% of teachers of color who are trained by Delaware teacher-preparation programs leave the state for other jobs. With the changing economy, rising inflation and other factors, the migration of qualified teachers from Delaware will get worse without action.

One solution to addressing this exodus is to pay these professionals for what they do both in and out of the classroom. The pandemic has shown in full light the impact teachers have on our learners. Not only are they ensuring students learn academic content, but they are also providing emotional support and providing parents with tools and resources to help at home. We should look at compensation not just as a way to compete with neighboring states but as a reflection of the work that teachers do every day to ensure students and families get the support they need. It is worth noting that this addresses pre-K-12 public educators only — not the educators working with young children in community settings, who make so little, many are on public assistance, and most do not have benefits.

What’s underway?

We know through our conversations with teachers that they want leadership and growth opportunities, and they want to be recognized and compensated for the work that they take on.

Teacher of color affinity groups

As we announced this spring, Rodel is working to support Red Clay and Colonial school districts in the launch of teacher of color affinity groups. These affinity groups — think of them as professional support groups — will be led by current classroom teachers who will facilitate conversations with their peers to learn, share and grow in their practice. In recognition of their leadership, these teachers will receive additional pay from their districts for the extra time spent preparing and leading these groups.

Rodel Teacher Network and working group on teacher diversity

Rodel relaunched the Rodel Teacher Network last fall. It serves as a forum for teachers to learn about, engage with and weigh in on key issues in education and leverage their voices for the benefit of their students and the education profession.

As part of this network, we have convened (and compensated) a small working group of educators to collaborate on the critical issue of diversifying the teaching profession in Delaware. This group has identified a few priority areas of work, including building leadership capacity and pipelines for teachers of color and diving deeper into culturally responsive leadership in schools. An outgrowth of these conversations is the recognition that teachers are taking on numerous leadership roles within their schools that are not traditionally seen as school leadership. They will continue to build out this work and look forward to contributing to the conversation around compensation reform for educators in Delaware.

Small but mighty professional development opportunities

The Delaware Department of Education has started to offer educators the opportunity to earn microcredentials in literacy. Microcredentials are a form of competency-based professional learning that gives teachers more choice over their professional development based on their individual needs and the needs of their classrooms. Not only do they recognize and provide personalized professional learning, but teachers can earn stipends per successfully completed microcredential in Delaware.

Longtime teachers of the Rodel Teacher Network have been instrumental in advocating for improved professional development through publishing policy briefs and meeting with the state education Professional Standards Board. The implementation of microcredentials is a testament to their work; with it, professional development for teachers takes an exciting step in a more innovative and engaging direction.

Mark Baxter is the senior program director at Rodel, a statewide nonprofit that partners with policymakers, the private sector, philanthropy and practitioners to make systemic changes that can improve students’ lives.

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