Arkansas teachers deserve better than the insulting dismissal by the Arkansas legislature that we saw this week.
Teachers in Arkansas are overwhelmingly underpaid, and as a result, we are losing talented teachers to other states at an alarming rate. There is a teacher crisis in Arkansas, and something must be done immediately to address the problem.
Arkansas teachers deserve both a bonus and a raise. Arkansas teachers are tired of being asked to do more with less – less time, less money, less support, and less respect. The issue of paying teachers what they deserve in our state is not a partisan one: It is simply a matter of common sense.
Teachers are the bedrock of our society. Teachers train future doctors, lawyers, engineers, and scientists. They are the fundamental building blocks of American society. They are our leaders. They rose to the occasion during COVID-19 to become counselors, technology coordinators, instructional facilitators, health safety liaisons, and academic advisors. They worked two full-time jobs for one salary.
Now we have the opportunity to compensate Arkansas teachers, yet our elected representatives are turning their backs not only on our professional educators but also the children they nurture. Despite sitting on billions of “surplus dollars,” it is apparently still not the right time to address the alarming inequities within the state as well as our embarrassingly low educational status in the nation.
I have taught for almost twenty years, and reading the billboard in Little Rock is a punch in the gut. The billboard advertises that a first year teacher in Texas can make a salary of $60,000, almost equivalent to what I earn now, despite almost twenty years experience and an extensive resume few could rival. And let’s be clear: The bonus, as the legislature has proposed, is not the same as a raise. It is not taxed the same nor does it contribute toward teacher retirement. Arkansas teachers have dedicated their lives to teaching our youth and are an invaluable part of the lives of our children. It is past time to respect and value their dedication to student success and the professionalism they have shown under duress in an effort to end the mass exodus of leaders in our profession.
Pay Arkansas teachers a competitive salary. Pay them what they deserve. Pay them the raise AND the bonus – and then anything else that is left over. We cannot underestimate the value our teachers have in today’s society. Anything less is a mere dismissal of the work teachers do on a daily basis and the work they will continue to do regardless of the actions of the Arkansas legislature.
Teachers across party lines have heard the message loud and clear. They are organizing and spreading the word. Many now have a new issue to motivate them at the polls: Raising teacher salaries to what they deserve. Anything less is unacceptable.
Pay the teachers, Arkansas. They deserve it.
Editor’s note: Hayden Shamel teaches at Lakeside High School in Hot Springs where she is the PLC leader and English department chair. She is a 19-year teaching veteran and was named Teacher of the Year and an Outstanding Faculty recipient of the Arkansas Association of Two-Year Colleges. She ran for U.S. Congress in 2018. The opinions expressed are those of the author.