By Cindy Long
A teacher shortage threatens schools from coast to coast, but a recent salary increase for Maine educators is hopefully making teaching a friendlier proposition in that state.
Gov. Janet T. Mills’ 2020 – 2021 budget raised the minimum annual salaries for teachers to $40,000, “to ensure that teachers in Maine will not be forced to leave the state for a living wage,” she said in a statement.
The salary increase will be phased in over three years, starting with the 2020 – 2021 school year, when schools will be required to pay starting salaries of at least $35,000. The following year, the minimum rises to $37,500. The full $40,000 minimum kicks in for the 2022 – 2023 school year.
“What we’re seeing is a recruitment and retention issue in the teaching profession, and by increasing pay we move one step closer to ensuring our students have quality teachers who don’t leave the profession,” says Grace Leavitt, Maine Education Association President. “No one gets into teaching for the money, however that is not an excuse to pay teachers poorly. It is long past time that we respect our teachers enough to pay them more, and this new law in Maine is certainly a step in the right direction.”
Not Only About Money
Maine, like so many other states across the nation, is experiencing a teacher shortage—one that’s sure to get worse as about 35 percent of the state’s teachers approach retirement. One of those teachers is Vaughn McLaughlin, who has taught music for Caribou Public Schools for 35 years.
McLaughlin knows teaching is much more than a paycheck.
“I have a former student who is now the first female astronaut from Maine aboard the space station,” McLaughlin says with pride. “She contacted me this summer to see what type of saxophone mouthpiece she should take into space with her. This is why we do what we do—we build personal relationships with our students and that is critical to their development as human beings.”
But the personal cost shouldn’t be so high, he adds. Over the more than 30 years that McLaughlin and his wife have spent in the classroom, they have raised their children (and now grandchildren, due to the nation’s drug epidemic) and have amassed more than $200,000 in debt.
“The lack of funding for education has put us in the unenviable position of having to find a full-time job upon my retirement from teaching, as we were never able to put any money away for retirement,” McLaughlin says.
Keeping the Profession Viable For The Next Generation
The stresses of teaching are far higher than they were a generation ago, and they are taking a toll on young educators.
“We are seeing fewer young people go into education,” says McLaughlin, whose son Brendan wanted to follow in his parents’ footsteps and pursue a career in education.
After completing his teaching degree in math, Brendan McLaughlin found a job in a neighboring town. He did so well that the superintendent actually called Vaughn McLaughlin to tell him about his son’s excellent work.
“But after only three months, Brendan called me to say he couldn’t do this for the rest of his life. He had already burned out,” McLaughlin says. “If we don’t do something as a nation to promote our profession, increase pay, and fund our schools we run the risk of intellectual, political, and economic collapse.”
Determined to shore up the profession as much as he can before he retires, McLaughlin became president of the Caribou Education Association.
With the new budget passed by Gov. Mills, all educators will get a salary bump and McLaughlin will get a 3.2 percent increase, but he is most pleased by the new starting salary increase—a change that MEA has been fighting for since 2014.
“All communities improve when educators make a professional wage, but especially small towns where the school district is often the largest employer,” he says. “These folks raise their families here, shop in the local stores, and are an integral part of the culture and well-being of every community. How they see themselves and their profession becomes a big part of the success and vibrancy of the town.”