As a teacher with 36 years in regular and special education in Rapides Parish, I have seen many students come from homes that are well below the federal poverty line. Living in poverty makes students’ lives harder, but that doesn’t stop teachers from challenging them on a daily basis. Whether it is in reading, writing, math or a game of basketball, every time teachers raise the bar, most of the students step up. Students in poverty need to be challenged and engaged more so than other kids who have more- solid support systems outside the classroom. Poverty is certainly a piece of Louisiana’s poor education ratings — and it must be addressed — but it’s not an excuse.

Teachers are a large part of the solution, but we need the same support, and high expectations that we have for our students and we need to be paid for our successes. That’s why I support Rep. Lenar Whitney’s House Bill 644 that does just that. The legislative bill gives districts the ability to pay teachers for improved student performance.

Furthermore, performance-based compensation is crucial to keeping our best teachers. I see teachers working at school from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and throughout the summer, as they slowly inch their way up the standard “step” pay scale with each year of experience. It’s no wonder many excellent, committed teachers consider leaving the profession for another that recognizes their contributions financially.

Imagine a teaching profession that acknowledged and rewarded excellence, was well respected, attracted the best and the brightest, and gave high-performing teachers opportunities to stay in the classroom yet earn a larger salary and further, their career.

Teachers are ready and willing to lead the charge to reimagine what the teaching profession can and should look like. We must raise the bar in order to be the teachers we want to be — the teachers our students deserve. I want to be able to stay in my classroom and still develop as a professional.

HB 644 places the emphasis on teacher pay for teacher effectiveness and recognizes and rewards deserving teachers.

Charmagne Wells Guillory