Radio Address: Millett says teachers deserve better training, increased minimum salary

Posted: February 19, 2016 | Senator Millett, Weekly Radio Address

Hi. This is Senator Rebecca Millett, the ranking Senate Democrat on the Legislature’s Education Committee. Thanks for tuning in.

This week, the Education Committee endorsed my bill to increase the starting salary of Maine teachers while simultaneously ensuring every new teacher is better prepared to succeed in the classroom.

For too long, the state has put more and more on our teachers’ plates, from ever-changing standards to new, high-stakes tests. Some politicians pay lip service to supporting our teachers, but when push comes to shove, they’re more comfortable giving our teachers more work than they are giving them more pay or more help doing their jobs.

It’s time to walk the walk.

Our teachers are charged with educating our children. But many teachers are much more than that. And the very best teachers have a lasting effect on their students. Great teachers help create Maine’s future entrepreneurs and leaders. They can ignite a passion for a particular subject that can propel young people into successful, productive, happy careers for the rest of their lives.

All teachers choose their profession because they want to have that lifelong effect on students. The difference between a good teacher and a great one is often a matter of training and support. That’s especially true in the early stages of their careers.

My bill bolsters training by giving student-teachers more time in the classroom before they get their first job. It also requires that all newly hired teachers have a 3.0 grade point average in their teacher prep courses.

No matter where a new teacher lands, we need to be sure that he or she receives the support and attention necessary from administrators and high-performing colleagues to have a successful first year. Teachers should be paired with experienced colleagues for mentorship and guidance. My bill seeks to create incentives and remove potential barriers for our best teachers to take on the additional work of mentoring.

Lastly, my bill provides a down payment on the future of Maine’s schools. With our aging teacher population, we are staring down a ‘teacher retirement boom’ in coming years. More than 7,000 teachers are going to retire in the next decade. We need to ensure that teaching is a viable and alluring profession for our young people. We can’t afford to let the best teachers of tomorrow follow a different career path because teachers are paid too little.

So, my bill increases the starting salary of Maine teachers to $40,000 per year. This puts Maine teachers closer to the national average and, more importantly, rewards and honors their critical work in the classroom.

This bill is not a silver bullet. I’ve learned that there is no such thing. We’ll still need to convince our Republican colleagues to fill a $23 million shortfall faced by our schools. If we don’t, either our schools and students will suffer, or property taxes will increase. We can’t let that happen.

We also still need to meet our obligation to fund 55 percent of local education costs, something the voters charged us with doing more than 10 years ago.

In the meantime, though, I’m hopeful we’ll support our teachers — in recognition of their work, and for the sake of our students and the future of our state.

Once again, I’m Senator Rebecca Millett. Thanks for listening.