LOCKWOOD — The TEACH Act, or Tomorrow’s Educators Are Coming Home Act, was signed into law in 2021 by Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte. Backers say it's making a dent in the teacher shortage by providing incentives and loosening licensing requirements.
On Tuesday, Gianforte visited Lockwood High School to meet two new teachers, who were hired through the TEACH Act.
“We have a teacher shortage," Gianforte told MTN News on Tuesday. "So, these measures taken to increase pay and expand licensure is getting more qualified people in front of the classroom, and that’s going to help our kiddos."
The education field requires a certain skill set to teach the next generation of leaders, but high costs for education and low starting pay have led to a nationwide teacher shortage, including in Montana.
"In its first year, the TEACH Act helped nearly 500 new Montana teachers," Gianforte said. "This session, we boosted the funding by 40%."
Montana has one of the lowest average starting salaries for teachers in the country at just below $34,000, according to the National Education Association.
In an effort to attract more teachers, Gianforte signed the TEACH Act into law in 2021.
"The program has been a great success. But let me be clear, there's more work to do," Gianforte said. "We face a shortage that impacts every state in our nation."
Lockwood School District was one of the main beneficiaries of the act and was able to hire 31 new teachers this year.
One of those teachers, Zach Carleton, said he's been wanting to become a teacher for years. Until the TEACH Act was signed, it seemed like an unreachable goal.
“The TEACH Act was a large reason for me being able to make this jump. I’ve been in hospitality management for the most part of the last 10 years. For the last five, really been thinking about this jump to education," said Carleton, a recently hired English teacher at Lockwood High School, on Tuesday. "Financially, it wasn’t justifiable. But with the advent and implementation of the TEACH Act, I was able to make the jump into something much more fulfilling, and with a multitude of advancement opportunities."
The TEACH Act allows for provisional and emergency licensure, so if someone is studying to obtain a teaching license, they can hop in the classroom early.
“The main positives are an increased starting salary for somebody that’s in my position and also emergency licensure. I’m coming in under provisional licensure, which means I’m also in graduate school at the time," Carleton said. "There are so many different avenues for support for teachers like myself, and emergency licensure to help us get on our feet, and to make sure this is something that we can continue to do."
Starting salaries have also increased.
"Any new teacher that's coming in is immediately placed on their third year on the teacher pay scale," said Don Christman, the interim superintendent of Lockwood School District, on Tuesday. "We want the teachers to receive the pay they deserve."
Another new hire, Terron Torix, said he's excited to navigate his first year of teaching.
“I’m taking classes online, 19 credits this semester. It’s a lot, I know,” said Torix, the new family and consumer sciences teacher at Lockwood High School, on Tuesday. “I love it. I’m ready whether I have a bachelor’s degree or not. But just knowing that I can make that relationship with students really just matters, and I love what I do."
The 19-year-old comes from a family of educators.
"My parents are teachers," Torix said. "My dad’s the superintendent of Laurel, and my mom’s an elementary teacher."
The new teachers say they’re ready to make a difference in their student's lives, and they're grateful for the opportunity.
“I am immensely grateful for this opportunity," Carleton said. "To see this come along, and to be able to take the jump into something that I have been thinking about for many years.”
Without the TEACH Act, Carelton and Torix wouldn't be where they are today.
To learn more about the TEACH Act, click here.