An Open Letter and a Petition

Here is the open letter  I sent to every member of the house/senate committee members, the State Board of Education, and the Governor’s office.

Please take the time to sign this petition to help pressure those folks in making reasonable changes to the current Master Educator Premium in order alleviate the current exceptional onerous process of applying which leaves many Jedi quality educators behind.

Sign the petition now!

An Open Letter to the Idaho Legislature, State Board of Education, and Governor’s office.

The State Board of Education recently released data regarding teachers’ applications for the Master Educator Premium (MEP).  Of an estimated pool of over eight thousand applicants, only about one in five applied.  In fact, Idaho’s Teacher of the Year, Marc Beitia–precisely the type of educator this program seeks to highlight and reward–also declined to submit an application.

I am encouraging you to read input on why some many “black-belt” type educators did not apply for the premium, and then to use that feedback in developing changes to the MEP moving forward so that Idaho’s Jedi teachers receive the recognition just as program was designed to give.  There are many master educators this program was designed to spotlight who did not apply, and it is beholden to stakeholders to listen to their reasons and respond accordingly.

I solicited input from Idaho’s educators who both chose to complete the premium and those that did not.  I have included their input in this document (see enclosure.

Some major take-aways from their input:

  • The amount of time required to complete the portfolio process was much higher than State Board projection (80-120 hours seemed to be average).
  • General consensus that the portfolio is an indicator of one’s ability to write narratives on artifacts, and is not necessarily an indicator of educator “masterness.”
  • Educators would much rather be using those hours to benefit their students such as taking professional development, preparing curriculum for the upcoming year, attending training, etc.

Three recommendations from educators to improve the program moving forward:

  • Provide an alternative pathway to the premium aside from the portfolio process.  
    • For example, if a teacher’s evaluation results in a teacher receiving a “distinguished” category, perhaps that in itself qualifies for the premium.
  • Reduce the paperwork requirements.  
    • Perhaps instead of having to respond to every characteristic in each of the five categories, an educator chooses three (there are currently up 8 characteristics a teacher must provide artifacts and a narrative for in the portfolio).
  • Convene a committee with the bulk made up of actual educators who both submitted the portfolio and those that did not to continue a dialogue on how to better implement the MEP.

Thank you for your valuable time in helping educators across the Gem State by collaborating in improving this program for Idaho’s very best teachers.

Enclosed are comments from Idaho’s educators.  If you have any questions please feel free to reach out via email at or via phone at (208) 409-3410.


-Levi B Cavener



Name Date Comment
Rich Smith 26/06/19 22:26:43 I will not be submitting a portfolio. It is insulting in the extreme that a bunch of non-teachers created this overblown requirement for a minuscule raise. My plate is already very full with summer school, leadership, partnering with my college, training to be a better teacher for my students.I am confident in my teaching and the results speak for themselves. I refuse to perform in a dog and pony for a bunch of politicians who haven’t even guaranteed funding for this raise.
Julie Shook Nawrocki 27/06/19 06:02:55 My time is better spent working on curriculum to help my AP Calculus, AP Stats , dual credit PreCalculus, and dual credit Calculus 2 students. Would I like to have a little boost in pay, yes! But I work 60-75 hours a week during the school year. I attend no less than 3 conferences during the summer, teach on line summer school and take care of a years worth of to-do lists for my home and family. I think I am a master teacher, but my students will benefit from my summer preparing for them much more than they will from me putting a portfolio together.
Mari Robinson Harris 27/06/19 14:30:07 After 51 hours of work in 2 weeks… I think my MEP is done…(PS I didn’t calculate the amount of time it took to gather evidence during the school year, record videos, etc, this is just JUNE time).I did not procrastinate to complete this, I wanted time to focus and there is no way I could have focused during school, I also lost time because I took an amazing educational trip. The MEP was a semi reflective and semi soul sucking experience. Yes, I partly did it for the prayer of a pay check and partly because I want the state to know how good of a teacher I really am. Should I have had to create a 40 page document with over 75 artifacts, and 15,000+ words to demonstrate that? The answer should be no, but it Idaho it is. In two weeks I will learn about the evaluation process for this portfolio. This document didn’t take time away from my students, but it did take time away from my family and friends. My summer can now begin (or at least last 2 weeks without school!).
Kathy Tieszen Neufeld 27/06/19 18:37:31 I didn’t even consider applying, for all of the reasons mentioned–it’s insulting to have to prove that you do all of the things you do; it’s way too long and detailed, and there’s no guarantee that you’ll receive the premium anyway. Then our local union put together a cohort to work on it. Turned out I had conflicts when they met, but some of my colleagues encouraged me to go ahead and give it a shot. After the last day of school, I put in hours and hours and hours, neglected my yardwork and loved ones, and stayed up way too late working on the application. Last night at 1:00 a.m., I realized I wasn’t going to get it done. I knew what I was going to use for all of the artifacts, but there just wasn’t enough time to actually put it together. Besides, my relatives had begun arriving for my dad’s 95th birthday celebration. So now I have an application that is 4/5 finished, some really great letters of recommendation from respected educators and administrators, and piles of “stuff” that I was using to prove my worth as an educator. So now my question is this: based on what looks to be an overwhelmingly negative reaction to this process, is it finally time to ask the master teachers themselves what they believe is a fair way to compensate them?
Maggie Stump 27/06/19 23:31:55 Why does Idaho have such a teacher shortage? This state doesn’t take care of that are already working there. I shouldn’t have to jump through yet another hoop to get some recognition.
Lynn Wunderle Briggs Atzet 28/06/19 04:16:57 I did not do my MEP portfolio for multiple reasons, the first being economic. What if I do not receive a return on my investment? In 2002, I earned National Board Certification on my first try, not a small feat in those early years. At the time, the initial pass rate in Georgia, where I lived, was 30%. It earned me a 10% bonus on my base pay for the ten year life of the certificate. It made me eligible for certification in several states, which was helpful when I moved to Idaho in 2006. But Idaho had a lesser bonus for NBCT’s, and I didn’t get it for the first year because I didn’t know I had to apply for it. Then, the state eventually stopped funding it, leaving local districts to pick up the tab. My trust level for state funded bonuses for teachers in Idaho is not very high.I have no doubt that I am still a “Master Educator.” The work I put in to the NBCT process is what made me stay away from the first round of MEP awards. I was not willing to sacrifice family time, teaching prep time, working on my Ed. S. in Leadership (with an emphasis in curriculum and instruction, not building administration), or my personal life balance in order to create a feel good experience with instituting merit pay for the state legislature. I am a professional, not a pawn. My building administrators, like supervisors in the private sector, should be able to evaluate my performance. My district level evaluation tools examine everything the state is asking me to turn in with pretty labels, pictures, and reflective narratives. That should be enough.I also have another reason to believe that the state teacher compensation system does not value experience. I moved again this summer and lost over half my experience(15 of 28 years) on the career ladder because the state does not invest in teachers who stay in the profession as a true career. Some districts in my area won’t grant more than 7 years of experience. When people in the private sector make lateral moves for better opportunities, working conditions, or professional growth, they usually keep their pay at the same level, and by mid-career, they get paid more for their experience. On the other hand, if a mid-career teacher wants a new opportunity, a new commute, or has no choice about moving, that teacher is highly likely to take a pay cut. Why would any of us trust a merit pay bonus system that is attached to a career ladder compensation system that comes with a financial punishment for pursuing opportunities?I already lost a big chunk of money because the state’s funding formula to reimburse districts for highly qualified, highly effective teachers does not respect individuals like me, who will choose growth and learning over money. I will decide when and whether the second job of creating an MEP portfolio is worth the potential payoff. I don’t buy lottery tickets and I don’t gamble, so I would prefer to see some “winning” examples before I toss my dice in the game.
Nathan White 28/06/19 14:57:15 I completed it the first two weeks of June. I spent about 45 hours on it. My wife also completed it and spent about 70 hours on it. I don’t even know when or how we find out if we won.
Ximena Schneider 28/06/19 19:00:22 Thank you Levi for your input. Your view represents mine also. The system don’t build us up. It feels like the system wants to tear us down!
Alicia Beth Purdy 28/06/19 21:22:35 I submitted my MEP yesterday, after nearly 100 hours (not including hours of accumulating artifacts). If my portfolio is not deemed worthy of the premium and recognition, I would be tempted to leave for greener pastures.
Alice LaTourrette Heberlein 29/06/19 01:37:01 I am not submitting a portfolio. In Aug 2019 I will be starting my 35th year of teaching. In that time I have coached Volleyball, basketball and tennis. I have served on faculty senate and building leadership team. I have taught Physical Education, Adaptive Physical Education, Health, Health Professions, and Medical Terminology. I have continued my education achieving a Masters in Athletic Administration and Health. I have dedicated 35 of my 56 years of life to teaching. To ask for a electronically submitted portfolio providing evidence of my master teaching ability at this point in my career is an insult. I have already reached my rule of 90 and will continue to teach because I love what I do. However, I do not plan on teaching 4 more years to benefit fully from the portfolio submission and feel in many ways this is age discrimination. Come in my classroom and watch what I do. Talk to my students and ask them what they think. Contact parents of my students and listen to what they say. To have a few individuals decide the fate of all teachers seems ridiculous to me.
Rachel Elizabeth Decker Bolin 29/06/19 02:06:35 I am new to Idaho teaching, but have been teaching for 13 years now. After looking at the requirements there is no way I’ll take the time to do it. It is a ton of hoops with no guarantee of how many they will even award. It is all to vague and unclear. I don’t trust that anyone will get the MEP…
Brandi Griggs 29/06/19 02:14:36 I chose not to submit mine for many reasons. One of which is that I don’t trust the legislature to actually come up with the money and no one is quite sure how many teachers will get it. Another, is that no one is really sure what is going to be acceptable documentation. Finally, I am too busy preparing for my students each year and during the summer preparing for next year to have time to jump through hoops like a circus monkey. I think maybe the Idaho state legislators should get a tiny base salary and they should have to compete for premium pay. When Idaho started this career ladder they took veteran teachers like myself and knocked us completely to the bottom. When it began I suddenly found myself being paid exactly what a fresh college graduate was paid, and at the time, I had 18 years of experience. I almost quit teaching altogether that year. There is no way that I am going to play their game in the hopes that they actually follow through.
Dee Ann Waldram Jones 29/06/19 05:12:11 I chose not to submit one because I did not need to experience the anxiety and panic over creating the portfolio for a possible extra increase in pay. I also did not want to spend another summer neglecting my yard. I also have a new grandbaby due and needed to help my daughter prepare for his arrival. My family and sanity is worth more.
Dee Porter Pottenger 30/06/19 01:45:49 I’ve taught 20 years and also chose not to create and submit a portfolio to try to receive my title of master teacher. In addition to agreeing with the above mentioned reasons, I too find it insulting that someone outside of my immediate supervising administrators is going to “evaluate a portfolio” to make this determination. I think at some point the Idaho Department of Ed should try an approach of valuing the teachers they have. Perhaps facilitate an attitude of pride in your employees rather than asking them to prove to you they have worth. Any effective leader, boss, CEO etc. seem to understand this concept. Thankfully in my district, our immediate administration DOES recognize our value and worth and make the effort to let us know it. I just wish the state level could get it figured out.
Carrie Garner 30/06/19 13:35:15 I am a veteran teacher with twenty years of experience. I did not complete the MEP because of the ridiculous requirements and the amount of time needed to complete it with no guarantee of receiving the award. My time is better spent on my students and actually teaching.
Korinne Pecunia 30/06/19 14:55:40 Too many hoops to jump through
Cyndi Hutchison 30/06/19 18:19:57 I am taking classes, spending time with my family and catching up on all the things I fall behind on during the school year in addition to prepping for the next year. The time and energy is not worth the additional time that would take me away from being a better teacher, mother, wife and my own health. I have been teaching for 21 years and my focus is where it needs to be, the success of my family and how to help my students to be more successful,. I won’t sacrifice more time for an activity that will not build either one of those priorities.
Elly Bokma Loman 30/06/19 20:12:42 I just submitted my application, after some hesitation in deciding whether the time/effort requirement would be worth it. As the 2018 Senior Fellow with the James Madison Fellowship Foundation, I’m currently representing Idaho at Georgetown University, studying the Constitution with some of the country’s best social studies teachers. I can’t believe that I had to take time out of the rigorous coursework to complete hoop-jumping busywork just so I have the chance to get some of the coins the State Board *might* throw my direction.It’s no wonder Idaho is facing a teacher shortage.
Anne Kinley 01/07/19 01:00:47 I 💯% agree with this article- I am a 24 year veteran teacher and have no desire to go through all the work and red tape involved… my 24 years of stellar evaluations should be enough evidence…
Megan Leiseth 01/07/19 16:31:10 I just finished my portfolio and hope it passes. I wish I had kept track of how many hours I have into it. I’m positive I have over 80 and my biggest fear is I won’t “pass” and I’ve wasted all this time. In no way has this improved my students’ learning and I feel terrible that I’ve taken the time away from them for selfish personal finance reasons. I’ve been asked to teach a different grade level next year and instead of preparing for the change my time has been spent on a portfolio. I finished my administrative degree two years ago and feel that should have been enough to get the pay increase. At least the master’s degree helped me become a better teacher…
Todd Lewis 01/07/19 19:38:03 Thank you. Mr. Cavener. Well done.
Julie Howell-Kirk 01/07/19 21:36:09 I looked into doing it simply because I needed the money to help me pay back my school loans from getting my masters degree. 1. It cost money to go to a class that helps explain how to do it. 2. That class was on a Saturday, so more time away from my own family. 3. I didn’t have the time or energy. I work with high risk students, I have them during my prep, lunch and after school. Then after school I keep score at games and help with the cheer team! Any other time I need to be spending with my actual family. I was insulted that my evaluation didn’t speak for themselves! I work hard form my students and my school. 4. Why do I need to prove that to anyone other than my administration?
Jachelle Lowe 02/07/19 00:37:05 Special Education teacher of 13 years in a middle school setting. I did not have 100 hours out of my life to give to this. I was also honestly worried how this would work as a special education teacher. My job is different, things designed to evaluate General Ed teachers don’t always line up with my job. I am tired of jumping through hoops for a pittance bonus and would like to just be compensated for my expertise, experience, and work I do above and beyond my contractual obligations.
Ruth Helton 02/07/19 00:56:41 Have too much to do already without trying to prove my value as a teacher to people who will never understand what teaching is about & what it requires.
Erika Cotant 03/07/19 01:42:13 So after reading teachers’ comments I grew concerned that because I chose to not prove I am a master teacher it will appear I am lazy. This whole approach is adding so much to my stress level and I chose to not even do it. Why are we set up to feel like this?
Erika Cotant 03/07/19 04:23:42 Is anyone really going to listen to us 😞
Mary Ollie 03/07/19 16:05:20 So a question….. Is it even legal for the appointed state board to be in charge of bonuses? It seems this “portfolio” is so far removed from the classroom that its validity is questionable. How can anyone know whether the portfolio is authentic or was done by a cottage industry (Portfolios R Us)? But more important than validity is the issue of local control of education…. where is in in the Idaho Constitution that an appointed board can manipulate teacher pay?
Kristin Rast Storebo 04/07/19 03:11:11 Nancy Humphries Gregory Jessica Pennick interesting read.
Lulu Stelck 04/07/19 22:30:42 I spent years earning my National Board Certification and then my PhD. I wanted to submit an application but was too busy finishing up the school year, trying to make it great for the students. When I finished after the second week of June I opened the application and thought, ‘I spend too much time pushing myself in my work, robbing my family of time together. I need to stop and go fishing.’ So, I made the choice to be with my family this summer. As you can see, I’m happy with my decision.
Cindy Luker 05/07/19 14:52:06 Scrapbooking exercise. Not worth it, and it doesn’t prove anything
Martha Rohall 05/07/19 17:44:01 I can not comment publically but I would like your phone number and tell you my story.
Mary Etcheto Rios 06/07/19 05:46:16 I have been teaching for 17 years, and I will not be submitting a portfolio due to the fact that I am not guaranteed anything. I would rather spend the time it would take on the portfolio on my classroom instead. No other profession has to send in a portfolio for money. I already spend a lot of time away from my family due to teaching and don’t feel that I should have to spend so many hours on a portfolio which would take me away from my family even more!!
Amy Myers 07/07/19 00:31:01 I’m going into my 20th year, and I did submit the portfolio. I agree with this article, as well as almost all of the comments in this thread, but I guess in the end I just felt like I didn’t want to have regrets in case the bonus did come through. I only know of two eligible teachers at my school who didn’t do it, so there was a lot of support in my school, and I was able to ask questions and work with my colleagues, which made it a lot less painful. I think I spent around 40 hours working on it, and honestly, I did have a feeling of accomplishment once I was done. I don’t have any doubts that I am a master teacher, but it just made me feel good to be able to demonstrate it to the state. Now I just hope I passed. Lol
Deri Shappart Hall 07/07/19 01:02:42 I can’t submit a portfolio but even if I could, I wouldn’t! I feel like I am stretched to the limit already.
Ruth Casper Byron 07/07/19 19:15:26 I reach the Rule of 90 on December 1, 2019. Completing the portfolio is not beneficial for me.
Bernadette Edwards 07/07/19 19:47:09 I submitted mine through teachervitae so it was not quite as cumbersome as I thought it would be. I am pretty techie so it was easy but I cannot imagine this undertaking for someone who is not tech savvy. This did not make me a better teacher. It just made me work through two weeks of my summer, so I guess they got their money’s worth through the many hours I spent on it.
Diana Zinzer 08/07/19 18:08:16 I submitted mine as our deductible for medical out of pocket per family is 9000.00. Need it to pay medical Bill’s and help daughter with college. Hoping I did it correct so didn’t waste my time. A lot of work.
Semper Sophie Cedar-Chance 08/07/19 20:11:16 I question the validity of this portfolio. I am not big on scrapbooking my awesomeness, and consider myself very engaged and present in my students lives and growth. I don’t stop and take photos or film them; I focus on being present in all moments and learning opportunities. This portfolio has a snarky facade that makes my stomach turn. I am devoted to my profession, and without tooting my own horn, I am certainly qualified. I spent 80 hours working on my portfolio. I did my best to show why I deserve this stipend, but was left saddened by the premise that I had to. There are two camps in regard to teacher perceptions of the MEP. The first being that it’s a ridiculous way to compensate and reward “Master Teachers” so teachers refuse to participate. The second is that teachers find it to be a ridiculous way to reward and compensate “Master Teachers” but can not afford to not participate. All individuals hold their own stories, and mine can not neglect the opportunity to support my family better, even if it’s just a chance to gain a stipend. I’m saddened that I’m in this position, but I chose to jump through hoops and take on copious amounts of stress for the additional financial support. My husband is a disabled combat veteran and our earning potential is fixed. Sometimes we participate in erroneous legislation because our quality of life demands it.#respectandvalueveteranteachers
Barbara Sorensen 08/07/19 23:43:56 My thirty years of teaching, mentoring, instructing, adopting curriculum, inservicing, getting a Masters degree, getting a Reading Specialist, coaching, running curriculum committees, and , oh yes, teaching hasn’t left enough room or time to do this insulting portfolio. I reached Rule of Ninety this past spring and so I just retired. It did not make sense to sign on for four more years to get this paltry bonus. My “Distinguished” evaluations and my resume speak for themselves. Any administrator doing their job adequately should be proof enough that someone has “earned” this bonus without jumping through more endless hoops trying to prove it oneself. What an insult to hard-working, professionals in this state.



1 thought on “An Open Letter and a Petition

  1. Marian Hayes

    I applied for the premium and so did my husband. Although I had taken classes offered by the IEA and had collected artifacts over the past two years, I agree with the comment above that there is not time to focus on something like this until school is out. At my elementary, we had trouble even getting the video footage because everyone’s busy teaching their own students. I basically worked a regular day for three weeks to compile my portfolio and my husband put in similar hours. We often interpreted the rubric differently. It felt like the targets were hidden. And there was quite a lot of anxiety about what platform to use to upload it when our package was complete. And did our effort pay off? It’s a gamble. Furthermore, I’m frustrated that I have to keep proving I do my job well – I graduated from college, renew a certificate often (including having to take the PRAXIS once), take regular professional development, am accountable to a principal, lead teacher, and several district personnel; get formally evaluated twice a year, teach with my door open with numerous people walking through, and have parental oversight on almost everything I do. Now this. I feel like the legislators think I’m guilty of something I haven’t done – like I’m a con-artist because I chose to teach . . . trying to get something for nothing. My biggest “ah-ha” in the reflective process? I felt like my weakest area was the last one – instruction! I’ve spent so much time with leadership, community connections, mentoring, professional development, etc. that perhaps the real heart of teaching is lagging behind. I’m going to get back to what I really should be doing – focusing on my lessons and the kids in my classroom, and will try to ignore all of the baggage that seems to be piling up.



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