Opinion: From Mentorship to Pay – Smart Solutions to the Teacher Shortage

An Austin teacher has ideas for what the Texas Legislature can do to fix our educator crisis

Opinion: From Mentorship to Pay – Smart Solutions to the Teacher Shortage

A few weeks ago at an H-E-B, I ran into an old co-worker who taught next door to me when we were both starting out in education. For five years, we worked on the same campus at a Title I charter school in Austin. Claire was the reason I wanted to become a better teacher. I can't count the number of times I watched her take command of a classroom, talk a student out of dropping out, or speak to parents on the phone in the evenings. I knew Claire as a driven, intelligent, innovative, and compassionate educator: what it takes to be a great teacher.

In the H-E-B, among the hordes of 5pm Sunday shoppers, we exchanged casual niceties, and then she broke the news about leaving the profession this past summer.

Sad as it is, Claire's departure from the classroom is nothing out of the ordinary. Last year alone, Austin's school district lost over 2,000 teachers, nearly double that of the previous year. According to recent surveys, upwards of 70% of the current AISD teachers are considering leaving after this year. And while there are many reasons behind the uptick of teacher resignations, salary is at the top of the list. "I can't afford to pay my rent, buy groceries, and still go out on a date with my boyfriend once or twice a month," Claire told me. "I loved the work. But I should be able to afford to buy a home at some point. I should be able to afford to send my kids to a decent college."

With rising costs of living and high inflation, it's little wonder that many schools in the district, including mine, are experiencing understaffing. While efforts to raise the base salary of teachers by 4% went into effect, that increase doesn't match the rate of inflation. And while AISD does pay a teacher salary above the state average, that base salary falls well short of every other major metro area in our state. However, with the upcoming legislative session, and the recent passage of all three of AISD's bond proposals – totaling over $2.4 billion in money to go to school renovations, technology, buses, new schools, and more – there is opportunity for change.

One way Texas legislatures can address the teacher shortage crisis is to expand the Mentor Program Allotment that was established with [House Bill] 3. With more money going toward teacher mentorship programs, districts like Austin will be better equipped to retain and compensate quality teachers through paid stipends while at the same time providing more hands-on, one-on-one training and assistance to those who are new to the profession and are most at risk of "teacher burnout."

Another avenue to explore is investing in teacher access to high-quality instructional materials. In the life of any teacher I've ever known, weekends, holidays, and late nights are too often spent modifying or creating from scratch curricular materials. Having access to quality materials, coupled with effective training on how to integrate these into one's curriculum, will save teachers time and energy on a daily level.

Most importantly though, legislators this year can vote to increase the basic allotment schools receive per pupil, and with that, require schools to apply that added funding toward an increase in teacher salaries. Reports show Texas ranking below the national average on teacher salary averages, and 43rd in the nation in terms of yearly pay increases. Raising the basic allotment could be a feasible solution.

Now is a real opportunity for change. Like Claire said, "The work I do is challenging and impactful and essential. I deserve the basics."

Matthew Balter is a speech & debate and creative writing teacher in Austin, Texas, with over 12 years of classroom experience. As a Teach Plus Texas Fellow, Matthew advocates for better working and learning conditions in the classroom and a more sustainable career path for teachers in Texas. Since moving from Boston in 2010, he’s proud to make Austin home for himself, his wife Caroline, and his son Beckett.

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education funding, teacher shortage, Texas Legislature, AISD

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