Time for Utah to Address Teacher Shortage

April 14, 2017 – Salt Lake City, Utah

In our opinion: It’s time for Utah, U.S. to address teacher shortages

By Deseret News editorial

Utah needs permanent solutions to solve its ongoing teacher shortage.

Such solutions may include: flexibility to provide greater pay for high performers or those who come from competitive fields; efforts to boost the professional prestige for educators; and greater freedom for teachers to be creative and passionate in their own classrooms without overly onerous regulations.

Deseret News reporting this week documents the scramble among school districts to fill hundreds, if not thousands, of open positions by recruiting teachers from beyond the Beehive State’s borders. Fully 56 percent of public school teachers who entered the profession in 2008 exited by 2015, according to data from the Utah Education Policy Center at the University of Utah.

And the problem is not unique to the Beehive State. In recent years, regional neighbors such as California and Arizona, among other states across the nation, have faced their own shortage challenges.

Pay: Solving the riddle of teacher pay is an important first step to solving the shortage. A recent audit by State Auditor John Dougall found that a college graduate who enters the education profession may make just under $40,000, but in another field such as computer science, math, statistics or engineering, they could earn $10,000 to $20,000 more. Yet, at the same time, some of Utah’s teachers may be paid more compared to their peers who specialized in similar subjects in college. Pay, therefore, needs to align with market rates and support state efforts to retain and compete for high-performing talent.

Professional prestige: Boosting the cultural cachet of an entire profession is not easy. However, there are things local districts and schools can do. Ideas include encouraging teachers to create institutes to tackle special projects in the profession or the community or having schools boost a teacher’s public platform with publishing and speaking opportunities. Studies show that beyond pay, titles, fellowships, special projects and awards can go a long way to provide the kind of community recognition that teachers merit.

Passion: It wasn’t that long ago that many young people, reflecting on the influential teachers who had touched their lives, developed their own passion to impact the lives of others by becoming teachers. There was a perception that teaching was a high-impact and high-satisfaction profession that had its own ample rewards. This passion brought many into the profession despite relatively lower pay and longer hours. There are many indicators, however, that onerous oversight by administrators or excessively regimented curriculum focused on standardized testing has sapped some of the passion out of teaching. This needs to change. Standardized testing is important, but it must not come at the expense of allowing teachers to curate a vibrant classroom experience.

Some states hope they can simply wait out the shortage until their enrollment growth stabilizes at a more manageable level.

Not in Utah.

Time is not in the state’s favor. This problem will persist into the foreseeable future as all of the factors that contribute to the current shortage are expected to continue and possibly accelerate in the future. It’s time for Utah educators, administrators and policymakers to sharpen their pencils and do their homework to find and implement permanent solutions to this pressing problem.

 

As found on the Deseret News