That’s the name of the game these days in public education. How are we going to recruit and retain teachers for our children? What novel approaches do districts have to keep the ones we have? The truth is, not many.
The best thing we as a state could do for teacher retention is to pay them more than we pay our state legislators, but for some reason that is not happening yet. Just to keep things in perspective, a starting teacher with a bachelor’s degree can be paid no less than $31,600. The starting pay for a member of the Oklahoma House of Representatives? $38,400. Many more make much more, but I digress.
What can we do to incentivize people to stay in Oklahoma as teachers when all around us the starting salaries are higher? I recently read an article in the Oklahoma Observer that had a very creative, yet painfully obvious idea to do just that. Arnold Hamilton, the editor of that paper (started by one of my heros, the late great Frosty Troy), suggested we offer a tuition waiver to people who stay in Oklahoma and teach for a minimum number of years. Isn’t that a simple, yet potentially very effective idea? I know that will cost money that the state will need to find, but the short- and long-term benefits would be well worth it.
First, giving current teachers a tuition waiver would put some jingle back in their pockets they could use to buy stuff, thereby helping the economy.
Second, offering this benefit to students in their early college years will definitely move some of them into the profession. Many young people consider teaching only fleetingly because they will have the hardship of trying to pay back college loans on a paltry salary. This plan could allow those young people who have a heart for teaching — the ones we desperately need in our classrooms — the space to follow their passion instead of their pocketbook.
Third, it has the potential of getting better qualified teachers into the classroom — those who have actually studied in the field of education. That high quality education has positive ramifications for the state in perpetuity.
It’s not a panacea, of course. It sure isn’t as effective as actually providing a livable salary to teachers, but it is a creative idea that has been tried for other types of teaching (teacher loan forgiveness from the federal government, for example) and Arizona just unveiled their own program, so we could copy their model.
What do you say? I don’t see a lot of better ideas for solving the teacher shortage problem, but would love to hear them.