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IEA president to lawmakers: more than half of Idaho educators are considering leaving

Martin Bureau

When Layne McInelly, veteran teacher and current president of the Idaho Education Association stood before the Idaho House and Senate education committees in January, his remarks raised more than a few eyebrows.

“Our educators – once universally admired and respected – now regularly face politically motivated attacks on their pedagogical freedom and false claims of indoctrination in the classroom,” said McInelly. “It’s no wonder that more than half of Idaho educators are considering leaving the profession.”

McInelly visited with Morning Edition host George Prentice and talked about how he remains optimistic for Idaho lawmakers to “do the right thing” by fairly compensating Gem state teachers, but he quickly added that Idaho “is at a crossroads.”

“We need to treat the educators as the professionals that they are and when they get that respect, educators are going to want to continue to teach and work with the parents and work with the community to make sure that the student is serviced to the best of their ability.”

Read the full transcript below:

GEORGE PRENTICE: It is Morning Edition on Boise State Public Radio News. Good morning. I'm George Prentice. There was a time not too long ago when, if a politician, any politician from any party wanted to gain the public's favor, they would simply say they support public education. But recently, in the U.S. and particularly in Idaho, public education feels as if it has become a political football.  Funding of public schools. Dissecting curricula in public schools. Unfounded accusations of indoctrination in the classroom. And all of a sudden, the issue of how the next generation of Idahoans is educated has become a topic of debate. Layne McInelly is here: an educator in the Boise School System for years before becoming the president of the Idaho Education Association. Mr. McInelly, good morning.

LAYNE MCINELLY: Good morning. Thank you for having me.

PRENTICE: First off, for our listeners, remind us of the IEA and who you represent.

MCINELLY: So, like you said, I'm a career educator who is elected by members from every corner of the state. The Idaho Education Association is the professional organization that represents everybody that works in the school system, and so we have the opportunity to work with members from Kootenai County to Teton County to Ada County… all over the state.

PRENTICE: Earlier this month, you stood before the House and the Senate Education Committees at the Statehouse. To a layperson, I must say that some of your remarks demanded attention. And I want to make sure I get this right. I've got your remarks here: “It is no wonder that more than half of Idaho educators are considering leaving the profession.” Talk to me about that, because what you've just described there is, quite frankly, a crisis.

Layne McIntelly is the president of the Idaho Education Association
Idaho Education Association
Layne McIntelly is the president of the Idaho Education Association

MCINELLY: It is a crisis, it's very scary to think that over half of our educators could be looking at leaving the classroom for another profession or going to another state. We polled many educators across the state and that's the number that we got. I've talked to many of my educator friends that are looking at leaving because they have other opportunities in Oregon or in Wyoming who pay better. I also have educated friends that are close to retirement, and so instead of sticking it out and working a few more years, they're going to they're going to early retire and leave the classroom because they don't have the opportunities that other professions have been afforded to them. And so, you know, it's really scary thinking about those educators who have worked in the school system for so long leaving the classroom because those educators they take are newer to the profession educators and they mentor them, they help them. They show them the learnings and the teachings of how to be a really successful educator. And so, we need to look at how are we going to keep all of our educators in the classroom?

PRENTICE: I want to talk about salaries in a moment, but something else here jumped out from your remarks: “Better wages, better benefits, and simple respect. That last one does not even have a fiscal note.” I think I know what you're talking about here, and that is teachers being caught in the crossfire… quite frankly, political crossfire.

MCINELLY: For a long time when I taught, I enjoyed going into the classroom and developing lessons based off of the curriculum that was provided to me by our district and based off of the state standards. And now teachers are, like you said, in the crossfire and they are looked at through a microscope trying to find the issues with their teaching them their pedagogical freedom. We need to treat the educators as the professionals that they are and when they get that respect, educators are going to want to continue to teach and work with the parents and work with the community to make sure that the student is serviced to the best of their ability.They're doing that right now, but they need that respect to continue to go above and beyond like educators have for many, many years.

PRENTICE: Have you or your colleagues actually had a conversation with someone who thinks that there is some kind of indoctrination in classrooms? I'm just curious where this argument comes from.

MCINELLY: You know, the funny thing about that is when I talk to parents, they say the teacher that my student has or my child has, they're so good. The school that my children go to is amazing, but I've heard down the road there's indoctrination or I've heard in this school. But when we get right down to it, I've never been able to pinpoint specifics within Idaho classrooms where parents are saying my child was indoctrinated. It's always about it's that school over there. There's a survey that just went out and the results came back that 70 over three quarters of Idaho really appreciate education in Idaho, and it's always shown that the teachers are respected, and the educators are respected in their local community. It's outside of that community that there's this animosity or there's the questioning. We haven't seen it in Idaho, to my knowledge.

PRENTICE: Let's talk about wages. There was an interesting story that came out last week in the media, and it was repeated in most major media outlets print and broadcast. And the headline was: Idaho’s Average K through 12 Teacher Salaries” have hit an all-time high.

MCINELLY: So, I feel like that headline is a little misleading because, yes, it might be an all-time high, but it's not anywhere where it needs to be. If you look at similarly educated professions, we are getting paid far less than what those people are paid. As a teacher who has a master's degree going across the state line, I could get more than what I get in Idaho. And so yes, that headline may have read correctly, but I think it was very misleading.

RENTICE: What's your level of optimism? We are in the throes of the conversation at the Capitol that will ultimately decide where teacher salaries or at least the direction that they're going to head in. What's your what's your sense

MCINELLY: Talking to educators around the state, I feel like we are at a crossroads or a fork in the road. They're very optimistic about the governor's proposals and the ideas that he's brought forth to the Legislature. But we have to be careful because, like we talked about earlier. Over 50 percent of the educators are looking at leaving the profession. And so, if we take a turn, even a slight turn off of these recommendations that the governor has proposed, we could see that we are in drastic need in our education profession. And so, we see the light. But we have to be cautious because we need to make sure that we get to that, that in line.

PRENTICE: You come from a family of educators, don't you?

MCINELLY: I do. So, my dad was an education for thirty-five years. I have two little sisters that are educators in Idaho, one in eastern Idaho and one over here in the Treasure Valley. Education is dear to my heart.

PRENTICE: Here's the easiest question I'll ask all week. Being a teacher is still a noble profession… yes?

MCINELLY: Oh my gosh, it totally is. I can't wait for the day that I step back into the classroom and work with students. It's just it's the best profession out there.

PRENTICE: Elementary school, right?

MCINELLY: Yeah. Sixth grade elementary. It was phenomenal. It's such a great profession. Working with sixth graders, the 12-year-olds who they're a little sassy, have great sense of humor, but they're so willing to learn and they just love coming to school and they're so dedicated. And that's what brought me back, going to the classroom every single day where the students and I know that that's what brings all teachers and all educators back into the school is the students. And that's why we fight so hard to make sure that education in Idaho is good. And the best way that we can do that is by recognizing our teachers and our paraprofessionals and everybody in that school system.

PRENTICE: And he is Layne McInelly, the president of the Idaho Education Association. Mr. McInelly, have a really good week, and thanks for giving us some time this morning.

MCINELLY: Thank you. I really appreciate it.

Find reporter George Prentice on Twitter @georgepren

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