I’m a teacher in New Mexico, a state that is distinguished by its low ranking at the bottom of all published qualitative measures for education and the economy. We are also truly a Land of Enchantment, with diverse Native and Hispanic cultures, breathtaking scenery, and the legendary green and red chile. Although we have our struggles, we also have pride in our unique culture in this state. But our teachers are less than enchanted with low pay and punishing workloads in many of our school districts. Most of all, they are frustrated by a lack of support and trust in their work. Our students deserve educators who are well compensated and empowered to make educational decisions in the best interests of their students.
In a 2017 study by the Learning Policy Institute, published in the Albuquerque Journal earned the unenviable ranking of the second highest in teacher turnover in the United States and a ranking of 50th in collegiality within our schools. I am proud to say that the Land of Enchantment is ranked third in the country for the diversity of its teachers, but with our struggling economy and our rural/suburban/urban geography, it will take out of the box solutions to recruit and retain teachers in New Mexico and to continue maintaining and expanding our diversity in our teaching pool.
Independent foundations are supplying early career coaching that is not available from the public sector. For example, the Golden Apple Foundation of New Mexico, located in Albuquerque, NM, serves the entire state and “exists to improve the quality of education across New Mexico through the recognition, recruitment and professional development of outstanding teachers.” Veteran educator and National Board certified teacher, Christine Beverly, is on the board of the Golden Apple Foundation, and she is an instructor in the Golden Apple Early Career Academy. She explains that the Academy offers “twelve hours of professional development for 1st year teachers — six hours of training in formative/summative assessments and six hours in classroom & behavior management” in order to provide early career teachers with the support they need in the classroom. These programs are a bright spot in New Mexico education by offering a sustainable initiative to support early career teachers.
As part of my job, not only as a high school English teacher but also as a Speech and Debate coach, I spend a great deal of time with my colleagues from all over the state. New Mexico is a mostly rural state and its far-flung geography complicates collaboration and communication between teachers in different school districts. In discussions about teacher recruitment and retention with my colleagues, it is clear that low teacher and support staff salaries are affecting teacher morale and our ability to attract and retain desperately needed teachers. The 2018 state budget contains small salary increases for teachers and support staff in our schools, and even this small increase in salary means a great deal to New Mexico educators. The increases are not enough but they are a step in the right direction.
As a coach of an extracurricular activity, I’ve seen first-hand the less publicized impact of low teacher salaries and high teacher turnover. The ever increasing workload in the classroom means that teachers have less time available to sponsor important extracurricular activities and low or nonexistent stipends for coaches mean there is less incentive to make time to coach or sponsor extracurricular activities. In many schools, academic activities like Youth in Government, Speech and Debate, and Model UN, are simply unavailable to students because of a lack of willing sponsors.
Trey Smith, the 2018 National Speech and Debate Association New Mexico Educator of the Year, stated in an op-ed piece for the Albuquerque Journal, that the New Mexico Department of Education should consider using the New Mexico Teach Domain 4 framework to reward teachers who take on the extra responsibilities of coaching and sponsoring students in academic activities.
He reasons that participation in these activities produces student growth in all academic areas, and educators providing these opportunities should be rewarded. He goes on to state that sponsors and coaches of academic extracurricular activities should be in on the conversations on education reform. Proposals like this one, which use a system already in place, offer an innovative solution to a problem that did not appear to have a solution.
New Mexico needs to continue to address deficiencies in early-career mentoring, teacher recognition, and working conditions to attract and retain the teachers we need to grow our state economically. Access to extra-curricular activities create equity and opportunity for all students regardless of socioeconomic status. Providing students opportunities for success in and out of the classroom will require collaboration, flexibility, and a willingness to lead change by educators and administrators.
Our education leaders in New Mexico and across the United States must look to those who are in the field to create innovative solutions to teacher recruitment and retention with the resources we already have. Our students deserve no less.
Margo’s post is part of a roundtable blogging discussion sharing educators’ stories on our nation’s teacher shortage. We want to hear your thoughts! Join the conversation by commenting on and sharing this blog and by reading the other blogs in this series. Follow CTQ on Facebook and Twitter to see when each new blog is posted and use #CTQCollab to join the discussion on social media.