In 2022, The Oklahoma Legislature established the Oklahoma Teacher Empowerment Program (OTEP) as a way for qualified teachers to earn additional income by mentoring less experienced teachers. Recently, the Legislature funded the OTEP with $22.58 million. Since the Oklahoma Department of Education (OSDE) will dispense these funds on a first come, first serve basis, it’s important for interested POE members to understand key aspects of the program and the application process.
I. The Purpose of the Program
The Oklahoma Legislature created OTEP out of a growing concern that outstanding teachers too frequently leave the classroom for better-paying jobs. Generally, this entails teachers moving to an administrative role or switching professions altogether. As an attempt to keep qualified teachers in the classroom, the OTEP created a pathway for qualified teachers to earn additional income and remain mostly in the classroom.
II. Program Overview
The OTEP creates three tiers—or designations—of mentor teachers: advance, lead, and master. Each designation corresponds to a minimum salary increase and additional contract days for training. The exact salary increase for a mentor teacher is set by one’s local school district and matched by the state. While school districts must comply with the mandatory minimums set by the OTEP, districts are not limited by a maximum salary increase. The state’s matching funds, however, cannot exceed $40,000 per mentor teacher.
An accepted applicant may also be eligible for an additional one-time bonus if they meet one of the following conditions:
- If the accepted applicant is employed by an economically disadvantaged school district—defined as a district in which 40% or more of the students qualify for free or reduced meal assistance.
- If the accepted applicant is employed by a school district where student enrollment is less than 1,000 students.
The amount of the bonus corresponds to one’s designation: advance, lead, or master. The table below summarizes the minimum salary increase, additional contract days, and potential bonuses.
III. The Application Process
The application process to the OTEP starts with your school district. A district must apply to the OTEP and be accepted prior to any teacher involvement. However, Oklahoma school districts are not required to participate. If a district chooses not to apply, then no teacher at that school district is eligible for the OTEP.
The most common reason a district may forgo participation is cost. Although the OTEP offers great incentives for teachers, it is still incumbent on the local district to fund half of one’s pay raise. For some districts, this may conflict with other budgetary commitments or simply be cost-prohibitive.
If a district does choose to participate in the OTEP, district personnel must design an internal plan detailing the application and selection process for mentor applicants, and submit the plan to the Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE) for approval. Once the plan is approved, district officials can start reviewing mentor applicants and assigning designations. Up to 10% of teachers from a single school district can receive a mentor designation.
The upcoming application window for school districts is November 1, 2023 – December 15, 2023.
IV. Teacher Applicants and Recommended Qualifications
Local school districts have almost complete autonomy in determining how to evaluate and select mentor teachers. Only three factors must be included in a district’s designation plan:
- observation of the applicant teaching
- an evaluation of the applicant’s out-of-classroom time
- a review of how well the applicant’s students are performing
Of course, these three factors are just the minimum. Each applying school district would be expected to build on these selection protocols. The following table provides an example from the OSDE of possible selection criteria.
V. Next Steps for Interested Teachers
If you are interested in applying to be a mentor in your district, you should contact your administration and ask if your district has an approved designation plan in place for the OTEP. If your district has a plan in place, you should be able to begin your district’s application process to become a mentor teacher.
If your district does not have an approved plan in place, you should ask if the district plans to participate in the OTEP. This may be a great opportunity to start a conversation with your administration about why you are interested in the mentorship program. Ultimately, however, the decision for your district’s participation in the OTEP rests with the superintendent and local school board.