Utah Board of Education Mulls Hiring Non-Traditional Teachers

(Photo: Wikimedia, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Wikimedia, Creative Commons)

Utah lawmakers are asking why two in five public school teachers are leaving the profession within five years. At the same time, the state school board is doing their best to get people in front of classrooms immediately.

The board has passed a new policy that will allow schools to hire applicants who do not have a teaching license or experience in the classroom, says Annie Knox, reporting for The Salt Lake Tribune.

Parties interested in applying are required to have a bachelor's degree, pass an ethics test, indicate that they are proficient in subject areas by taking an exam, and pass a background check. If hired, they will be assigned a mentor and supervisor who has the rating of "master teacher" to work with them for the following three years.

But state Rep. Carol Spackman Moss (D-Salt Lake City) said this was a shortsighted fix to a much larger problem. Anyone who teaches, she added, must have skills in classroom management and an understanding of how to organize lessons correctly. Spackman Moss continued by pointing out that instructing young people is an art and science.

Other board members disagreed, saying that something had to be done. The policy is now in the public comment stage and will become operative on Aug. 7 if a request for a hearing does not occur.

In 2011- 2012, Utah lost 15.5% of its teachers, which is two times the national average. The Utah Board of Education said assistance from outside researchers will be needed to find the root of the reason for why teachers are leaving.

Researchers have already begun studying how the state's lower-than-average compensation for instructors and its demographics have affected the retention number. Rep. LaVar Christensen (R-Draper) said there are unique cultural demographics in Utah. Many couples are starting families at a young age, for example.

Another matter to consider is that Utah's colleges are producing fewer teachers while enrollment in schools has risen by about 10% over the past five years.

The teacher shortage in Utah is not a new problem. Currently, its retention rates are similar to rates before the economic recession. Education officials say historically there are more teachers available when there is a struggling economy.

Whittney Evans, reporting for KUER Public Radio, writes that interim Deputy Superintendent Rich Nye says the shortage is being exacerbated by the high rates of teacher retirement. Rep. Brad Last (R-District 71) said that money, the teaching environment, and class size all play a part in the dilemma. He believes that a task force should be convened to do some information-based research.

"And then with that data try to craft policies going forward that will help us figure out how to attract people, how to retain people, and how to make teaching a revered profession in the state of Utah," Last says.

Kim Burningham, former chair of the State Board of Education, wrote for UtahPolicy that he did his own research by talking with education officials, superintendents, college administrators, and studying data. He concluded that the teacher shortage in Utah is real.

His reading and investigation led him to believe that there were five significant reasons for the shortage, including fewer young people majoring in education, low retention of new teachers, increasing numbers of retiring teachers, lack of incentives for attracting and retaining classroom instructors, and declining morale of people in the teaching profession.

Burningham concluded by saying:

"Teacher shortage problems may vacillate as temporary solutions and valiant efforts address the issue. A genuine solution will not be found, however, until Utah addresses the more critical issues of morale, and morale cannot be independently addressed without also attending to financial questions!"

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