We need highly trained, passionate, and compassionate teachers in the profession. Act 10 destroyed that promise for many of our future teachers by reducing pay and benefits, and making the profession undesirable. It also discouraged young people from going into the teaching profession, and as a result, we have more vacancies now more than ever, especially in the highest need areas like special education, math and science, computer science, reading, and foreign language, school counseling, and technical education (business, agriculture, and STEM).
● I would work with our teacher unions to restore the teaching profession to the respectability it deserves as one of the most noble professions. I would work with existing programs in our colleges and schools of education to recruit young adults back to teaching. I would work to increase teacher pay so that teachers can once again support a family with a living wage and a career path that pays them for their expertise and education.
● I would advocate for the removal of “educator effectiveness” as it stands right now and replace it with a system that is locally controlled, and collaborative between unions and school boards and administrators.
I have other ideas:
● School-based professional development
● Revisiting the multitude of gatekeeping tests that teachers must pass to become licensed ● Reorganization of roles and responsibilities that are rooted in evidence-based practices such as collective efficacy among staff
● Student loan forgiveness for teachers and administrators
● A complete overhaul of the educator “effectiveness” system
I have experienced this issue firsthand as a rural school superintendent who has recruited and hired dozens of teachers. We have a crisis that needs someone who knows the local struggle. And I can lean into my experience of working in educator licensing at the Department of Public Instruction and with quality students at UW-Madison who wanted to become teachers but could not get into the School of Education.
There are several issues here. The first is supply and demand. No one ever went into teaching to get rich. It is a calling, a vocation. Since 2011, Wisconsin public teachers have been disrespected and demonized by too many, including some of our state leaders. This in turn has deterred young adults from pursuing the teaching profession. Cuts in salary and benefits have made a once attractive job that could support a family now unattractive. Wisconsin has moved to the lower half of states in starting teacher pay and below the average in teacher salary. This puts potential teachers behind what many others who have college degrees would earn in the workforce. We now are losing the Midwest regional competition for new teachers. It’s time to stop that.
Second, our schools of education—while I applaud them for their selectivity—had become so exclusive that they were attracting a type of student who had an educational experience completely different from what our public school students experienced in reality. Personally, I think the best teachers are those who did not have an easy time in school. They did not have the best grades all the time, and learning did not always come easy to them. Often, the best special education teachers are the ones who struggled with standardized tests. And our new teachers look nothing like many of the kids they will teach in our schools. We need a diverse workforce not only in race, ethnicity, and language skills, but also in upbringing—those who perhaps did not grow up in an upper middle-class household but struggled in school. There are some great programs like Educators Rising that recruit high school students into teaching majors in college. UW-Platteville has a program that recruits engineering majors into STEM teaching careers. I would like to use the Wisconsin Teachers of the Year Council in an advisory capacity to inform school boards and colleges what needs our new teachers must be educated in before graduating. We all want the same thing and we all should work together on this: schools and colleges, school boards, SAA, WEAC, and DPI.
Lastly, we need to reprofessionalize the teaching force. I want unions and school boards to work together to figure this out. If we are going to get the best and the brightest in our classrooms, we must pay them what they are worth. We must value the elementary school teacher the same as we would value a high school technology or physics teacher. Each teacher has a role to play in the educational development of our children. I want the best in our classroom, and to do that, we need to rethink how we compensate teachers and we need to rethink their career ladder. Teachers need to see a future in a school district. And they need to know that those who choose to teach in a rural area are as valued for their labor as a teacher in a wealthier suburb. I think we can learn a lot from what other states and other countries have done for educator compensation and apply that learning to our situation in Wisconsin.
We need to revisit how teachers are licensed. I think that we have too many expensive tests for teachers too, and they must take a semester of an unpaid internship to boot. We need to value people for their labor and their contributions if we want people to go into the profession, and we need to get the people who are teachers and educators to control the licensing and make decisions about tenure. I would also like to work with WEAC, the school boards, AWSA, WASBO, WASDA, and the colleges and schools of education to develop a true career ladder with sectoral bargaining and compensation packages so that teachers can establish roots and see a future in their school districts rather than have to move around so much in order to get a pay raise. I have also given thought to a “baseline” personnel expectation in all schools. Is it reasonable to expect that each building has a principal? What about a reading specialist or a gifted and talented coordinator or a curriculum coordinator? Many schools have cut different positions, which has created a widening inequity in educator positions in our schools. So when I look at licensure, I look at the economically stressed districts, and I wonder how we can aid them so that they can hire people to fill roles that have gone unfilled because of shortages or because they are cost prohibitive.
The point is, becoming a licensed educator in Wisconsin is a series of expensive and frustrating hoops to jump through. It should not be this difficult for intelligent, strong, and passionate educators to work with our kids. There must always be criteria, but the criteria should not be so impossible and time-consuming (and expensive) that they deter people from the profession. If we can make education a sought-after profession, we will attract the best and the brightest. If we can promote the profession and respect the individuals already employed by our schools, we will keep them in our schools doing what they do best: educating and inspiring our kids.