TWIN FALLS — If you’ve been teaching for eight or more years, you could qualify as a master educator.
The Idaho State Board of Education approved a master educator premium plan last week during a meeting at Idaho State University in Pocatello.
It allows experienced kindergarten through 12th grade teachers to apply for a $4,000 yearly stipend. With a teacher shortage across Idaho, the state wants to reward those who stick around and have a positive impact in their classroom.
“As parents, students and community members, we kind of know who those teachers are,” said Debbie Critchfield of Oakley, vice chairwoman of the Idaho State Board of Education. “How do we capture what it is that those exceptional teachers are doing?”
A state law in 2015 created master educator premiums. Since then, committees have worked on deciding how a teacher can apply and what criteria they must meet.
“I am pleased that there is attention and a desire to reward our teachers who’ve been in the profession for a long time and who really are masters at what they do,” Critchfield said.
There isn’t a cap on how many Idaho teachers can qualify.
In the Cassia County School District, 175 of 301 teachers have worked for eight years or more.
About 60 percent of Twin Falls School District teachers have eight or more years of experience. That’s 318 of 533 certified employees.
One of them is Peggy Hoy, a middle school math teacher who’s going into her 27th year of teaching. She plans to apply for the premium.
“As a state as a whole, we’ve got to start recognizing veteran teachers,” said Hoy, who’s co-president of the Twin Falls Education Association, a teachers union. “We’re going to keep losing them.”
She said about applying for the premium: “I know that it’s going to take a lot of time and effort.” But she said it’s beneficial to reflect on her teaching and find ways to improve.
Teachers must undergo a rigorous application process, which includes putting together a portfolio. It must be submitted to the state by July 1, 2019 for review by Idaho peer teachers.
The first premiums will be awarded during the 2020 fiscal year. Teachers will receive $4,000 each year for three years and can qualify for continued awards after that.
Master teachers will receive money directly, not through their school districts.
Student achievement is one piece of the puzzle used to determine who’s a master teacher. But not every subject area has a state standardized test to measure how children are doing.
“We wanted the characteristics to be able to transition through any type of subject area from kindergarten through 12th grade,” Critchfield said.
A teacher’s portfolio, “a collection of artifacts and evidence of exemplary practice,” must show each of 22 characteristics in five standards: leadership; professional collaboration and partnerships; students and learning environment; content, instruction and assessment; and professional growth, according to the state board of education’s meeting packet.
Idaho’s standards and rubric are modeled after Ohio, where fewer than 2 percent of its teachers qualify for a premium.
Critchfield was on a committee that helped create the Idaho rubric. “It’s on the heels of the passage of the career ladder,” she said.
The law, implemented in 2015, is boosting teacher pay over five years to help better attract and retain teachers. But one complaint among experienced teachers: It doesn’t do enough for those who’ve been in the classroom for many years.
When the career ladder was first proposed, it included three rungs, with the top one at a $60,000 salary for the most experienced teachers.
That was scrapped. But state officials wanted to look for another way to financially reward teachers who’ve been around for a long time, Critchfield said.
Jolene Dockstader, a middle school language arts teacher in Jerome, was a teacher representative on the state’s master educator committees. She has a doctoral degree and 25 years of teaching experience.
Dockstader said she has mixed feelings about the idea behind master educator premiums.
She thinks veteran teachers should receive a higher salary through the career ladder, not by having to put together a portfolio. And she’s concerned about whether there will be enough state funding to pay for stipends.
But it’s valuable for teachers to reflect on what they’re doing, Dockstader said, and would be even more helpful for those with less experience.
“The reflection piece of it was very powerful for me,” Dockstader said, adding it took her out of her comfort zone. “Even if there is not any stipend attached, it’s worth it for veteran teachers to do. “
In Twin Falls, nearly 100 teachers over the past 18 months have attended classes through the Idaho Education Association on master educator premiums and how to create a portfolio, Hoy said.
Dockstader leads trainings. The number one question she receives from veteran teachers: Why do we have to jump through this hoop to make the amount of money we already deserve?
During the training, she asks teachers why they’re pursuing a premium. “If you’re doing it for the money, you’re going to be disappointed.”
*Editor’s note: This story was changed Aug. 16 to correct the starting date for when teachers can receive a master educator premium.