It was a hard conversation to have with my eighth-grade students in February about how they would feel if I wasn’t their teacher the rest of the year. Our discussion was one I posed as hypothetical as I contemplated leaving my school of four years, the only school I’d known, to take an administrative intern position.
“If you leave, I don’t know what I’ll do!” was a quote from one of the students in my room during our weekly lunch advisory sessions. This was one of the 10 students in my homeroom class whose rapport with myself was strong. It was this student’s honest comment, the love I had for my students, and the regard I had for my school and overall profession, that (ensured) I finished out the school year. Ultimately, I stayed through May because I knew they deserved me to finish their middle-school career – a highly qualified champion teacher.
Like many other educators in New Mexico the search for careers elsewhere was dawning on me, and it does to this day. The desire for greater financial stability (is unfulfilled) in the Land Of Enchantment, especially in regard to classroom teachers. There are some who leave the state to go to neighboring competitors, others who leave the profession in general, and some like myself who find their only opportunity to stay in education with greater compensation is to be an administrator.
At the end of the 2018-2019 school year, I will have taught for five complete years and already reached the highest salary schedule that New Mexico has to offer me in being a Level 3 educator. This is because as a five-year teacher with a master’s degree completed, I will have the opportunity to level up to the highest tier of licensure. I exhausted the route of a master’s degree to further my expertise in education and also know that to reach the highest financial opportunity as an educator the degree would be necessary. After all, I could not wait for the timeline … for National Board Certification when I wanted to move quickly. I knew my students deserved more from me, and the same to say for my family.
With this said, it has only taken me four years to know that being a Level 3 educator for the (next) 21 years will simply not be enough. I will obtain my second master’s degree in the middle of this school year, and that will be in administration. This could mean that (an educator could potentially become) an administrator sooner than a Level 3 teacher. What picture does this paint?
As a special educator, I see potential on various levels every day. I set high expectations of quality learning and instruction, while my students and myself rise to the occasion with high academic and professional achievements. I have the pleasure of molding the minds of different thinkers as they travel through their educational career. I have also met phenomenal educators with toolkits unimaginable in every corner of this state. I don’t want my students, or any other New Mexico students, to miss out on what these educators have to offer because they leave for lack of opportunity.
For these reasons I feel that additional licensure opportunities should be created in New Mexico. Teachers are limited to a Level 3 license unless they pursue an administrative role, taking them out of the classroom and away from direct instruction with students. There needs to be an avenue for teachers like myself, with master’s degrees and whom are interested in leadership opportunities, to stay in the classroom. Providing opportunities for these champion educators allows for students, as well as teachers, to improve their learning and growth.
Just as we hold the expectations for our students high, we must do so for our educators. Teaching is the best profession in the world (and) needs to be held to the same … professionalism as any other.
Shelbi Simeone-Montoya is a Teach Plus New Mexico Teaching Policy Fellow.