Gift cards, classroom items and thank you notes are some of the most appreciated ways of saying thank you to your district’s educators and should not be overlooked. But as states continue to grapple with teacher vacancies, district leaders and lawmakers are still laser-focused on finding solutions to improve the teaching profession, because that’s what teachers need the most.
The pandemic exacerbated some of the already prominent disparities educators have faced for years. As a result, K12 schools witnessed—and continue to witness—its effects as teacher shortages remain. But in recent months, decision-makers have accepted the call to improve the lives of teachers in two specific areas: compensation and school discipline.
Compensation has been contested by teachers for years, and the current economic climate doesn’t make it any easier for them. Even further, some teachers simply live in areas where increasing teacher pay hasn’t quite gained traction yet.
A recent analysis by the National Education Associated highlights the highest and lowest-paying states for teachers. According to the data, New York is the highest-paying state with an average salary of $91,097. In contrast, Mississippi ranks among the lowest with a starting salary of $47,902, a scary number for educators considering the “minimum” living wage is $47,142, according to the NEA.
Legislative efforts across several states hope to change this narrative as more than half of states’ governors—26 to be precise—have proposed bumping teacher salaries over the past year, the Associated Press reports.
In 2023 alone, governors in Georgia and Arkansas have pushed proposals to improve teacher compensation. On the district level, communities like Ector County ISD give teachers the opportunity to earn up to six figures, a solution that turned a district with an 18% teacher vacancy rate into one of the highest-performing districts in the state of Texas.
“Today we have governors left and right from every political party and then some who are addressing this issue because they have to,” founder and CEO of the Teacher Salary Project Ninivé Caligari told the Associated Press. “We’ve never seen what we are seeing right now. Never.”
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One of the most prominent issues to arise since the pandemic is that surrounding student behavior. A recent survey of superintendents suggests student behavior has gotten “significantly worse,” according to more than one-third of the nearly 200 leaders surveyed. 81% say it’s worse than it was before the pandemic.
As a result, schools are seeing its effects as fights among students break out, student expulsions rise and teachers get attacked. And while organizations like the NEA advocate for less disruptive disciplinary policies, teachers say they’re not as impactful as they used to be.
In Nevada, teachers are asking for stricter discipline citing a 2019 restorative justice bill’s “complete failure” in keeping students and teachers safe, The Nevada Independent reports.
“It’s not working, and there’s no accountability,” one teacher said. “It’s not fair that a student can walk into a classroom and be violent and disruptive without any consequences.”
States like Kentucky are also making efforts to place the power back in teachers’ hands by giving them the ability to remove any misbehaved student from the classroom. That student must have permission from the teacher and an administrator to return.
“This bill will make public education better,” Republic Rep. Timmy Truett told the Associated Press.