Guest Comment: Better pay and supports could solve teacher shortage

By Mark Baxter

Introduced during Teacher Appreciation Week, Senate Bill 100 with Senate Amendment 1 seeks to evaluate and review current teacher salaries in Delaware. Sponsored by Sen. Bryan Townsend, D-Newark, and supported by a wide range of lawmakers, the bill proposes the creation of the Public Education Compensation Committee to examine 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 Governor John Carney for signature, requires the committee to develop a set of recommendations to establish a new compensation structure for educators. These recommendations are to be presented and considered by the governor by fall 2023.

While this bill does not guarantee or offer an increase in educator salaries, it is the first step to opening the conversation and prioritizing improving teacher compensation in the first state.

Why is this important?

We recently looked at what education can teach companies when it comes to attracting and retaining employees. A key tool in the toolbox of companies is to adjust wages to meet expectations and demand. In today’s economy, we see it everywhere, with employees being lured into new jobs with signing bonuses and pay raises. Teachers are no different, and Delaware needs to keep up, especially with shortages in most subjects.

Delaware currently ranks behind all of our neighboring states in starting salaries and average teacher salaries. We currently pay our beginning teachers an average of $6,000 less than Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Maryland and are able to fall even further behind. By 2026, all school districts in Maryland must offer a minimum starting salary of $60,000 to all teachers. In average salaries, our state is $9,000 lower than neighboring states.

These disparities have consequences. Data provided by the Delaware Department of Education showed that in 2021, 40% of teachers of color 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 worsen without action.

One solution to deal with this exodus is to compensate these professionals for what they do inside and outside the classroom. The pandemic has brought to light the impact teachers have on our learners. Not only do they ensure that students learn academic content, but they also provide emotional support and provide parents with tools and resources to help at home. We should view compensation not just as a way to compete with neighboring states, but as a reflection of the work teachers do every day to ensure students and families get the support they need. It should be noted that this only applies to public K-12 educators – not educators working with young children in community settings, who earn so little, many are on public assistance and most don’t. have no benefits.

What’s going on?

From our conversations with teachers, we know they want opportunities for leadership and growth, and they want to be recognized and compensated for the work they do.

Teacher of color affinity groups

As we announced this spring, Rodel is working to support the Red Clay and Colonial school districts in launching teacher affinity groups of color. These affinity groups – think of them as professional support groups – will be led by current 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 compensation from their district for the extra time spent preparing and leading these groups.

Rodel Teacher Network and Teacher Diversity Task Force

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

As part of this network, we convened (and paid) a small task force of educators to collaborate on the critical issue of diversifying the teaching profession in Delaware. This group identified a few priority areas of work, including building leadership capacity and pipelines for teachers of color and deepening culturally appropriate leadership in schools. One consequence of these conversations is the recognition that teachers take on many leadership roles within their schools that are not traditionally thought of as school leaders. They will continue to develop this work and look forward to contributing to the conversation about compensation reform for educators in Delaware.

Small but powerful professional development opportunities

The Delaware Department of Education has begun offering educators the opportunity to earn literacy microloans. Microtitles are a form of competency-based professional learning that gives teachers more choice in their professional development based on their individual needs and the needs of their classroom. Not only do they recognize and provide personalized professional learning, but teachers can also earn stipends through successful microcredit in Delaware.

Longtime teachers from the Rodel Teacher Network have been instrumental in promoting enhanced professional development by posting guidance notes and meeting with the state Education Professional Standards Board. The implementation of micro-certificates testifies to their work; with it, the professional development of teachers takes an exciting step in a more innovative and engaging direction.

Mark Baxter is the Senior Program Director at rodela statewide nonprofit organization that partners with policymakers, the private sector, philanthropy, and practitioners to bring about systemic change that can improve the lives of students.

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