SOUTH PORTLAND — By having a positive effect on a child’s life, and instilling a sense of curiosity that can drive lifelong learning, a good teacher wields the power to change the world every day.

The importance of a teacher’s work can’t be overstated. It’s an honorable profession that deserves our respect and gratitude.

Today, however, morale among our teachers is woefully low. Turnover is high. Enrollment in teacher preparation programs is at its lowest across our country. If educators hold our future in their hands, we need to make sure they feel valued, respected and have the training and support to be successful.

In my work on the Legislature’s Education and Cultural Affairs Committee, I have seen the research and heard time and time again that more effective teachers bring about better learning results in their students. That has an enduring ripple effect in that student’s life.

We have focused a lot of time, energy and financial resources on developing teacher evaluation systems, student assessments and education standards. These policies allow us to highlight and celebrate our effective educators and provide assistance to those who are struggling. But that can’t be where the conversation ends.

Over the years, we’ve put more and more on our teachers’ plates. But we’ve struggled to provide the resources that would help ensure that teachers receive the support they need to take on the additional work while still meeting their prime directive of educating our children and giving them the foundations to succeed.

This year, I’ve come up with a plan to support our teachers. The plan incorporates international best practices in the way we recruit the top new teachers, invest heavily in the development of their skills and make sure they are paid a fair wage that appropriately reflects the importance of their work. We need the very best new teachers to embark on a career in Maine; the stakes are too high in regard to our economic competitiveness to ignore this.

We need to focus on the student-teaching phase of teacher training. Coursework on teaching methodology and content knowledge are important, but nothing compares with the in-classroom experience. My bill, L.D. 1370, would increase our student teachers’ time in the school setting and provide for more real, hands-on experience beyond observation. More needs to be done to ensure these are high-quality work experiences involving more of the master educators who are currently practicing in our schools.

A teacher’s first year is critical to self-confidence, continued enthusiasm for the profession and longevity as an educator. No matter where a new teacher lands, we need to be sure that he or she receives the support and attention necessary from administrators and high-performing colleagues to have a successful year.

That requires assigning experienced teachers to help train and support new teachers. However, we provide no compensation for these mentors, despite the crucial role they play in new teacher training – not to mention the extra work.

My bill would direct the Department of Education to pay salary supplements to these mentors for their extra work. In doing so, we support both the mentor and the new teacher.

But it’s not enough to improve teachers’ training. We also need to place a value on teaching commensurate with its critical role in our society. That means paying teachers a fair salary.

If one-third of our teachers retire at 62, we can expect to lose about 5,000 teachers in the next seven years. We simply must do more to attract quality people to the field of education. If we expect new graduates to choose teaching over other fields like engineering where the average starting pay in Maine is roughly double a teacher’s, we have to close the salary gap.

The average starting pay for teachers in Maine lags significantly behind the rest of New England and the Northeast – by about $8,000. My bill would establish a minimum salary of $40,000 and double the loans available under the Educators for Maine Program.

I have worked to craft a bill that will help ensure that all of our students work with quality teachers who feel empowered to move beyond conveying curriculum and inspire our children to reach their full potential.