Utah schools rush to fill gaps in teacher shortage

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Utah is facing a massive teacher shortage, leaving schools racing to fill vacant teaching positions.

Some Utah school districts, like Canyons, Granite and Jordan, raised teachers’ pay in hopes of getting teachers to stay in the districts.

Canyons School District has raised the pay for teachers with a bachelor’s degree from $34,334 to $40,500 and for teachers with a master’s degree from $37,538 to $45,000, according to Steve Diamond, Canyons School District human resources director.

“We are raising the teachers’ pay because of the need to be competitive — not just in Utah, but across the country,” Diamond said. “Most teachers’ starting salary is $40,000.”

Granite and Jordan school districts have also increased their teachers’ pay. Granite raised pay 11.67 percent, and Jordan raised starting pay from $34,000 to $40,000 a year.

“We have seen a decrease in the number of teachers leaving our district,” said Donnette McNeill-Waters, Granite School District director of human resources, in an email. “We believe the decrease in teacher turnover is a result of our pay increase.”

Mary Ann Prater, dean of the McKay School of Education, said the teacher preparation programs at BYU are down by one-third.

Bradley Slade
McKay School students gather on BYU campus in April 2017. Mary Ann Prater, dean of the McKay School of Education, said the teacher preparation programs at BYU are down by one-third. (Bradley Slade, courtesy of Cindy Glad)

“Fewer university students are choosing education as their career,” Prater said in an email. “This is not just a BYU issue, but a state and national trend.”

Prater said she believes the decreases are because of low salaries and the high stress of the job. She also said she thinks society has devalued education as a profession.

McKay Creative
McKay school student Emily Clifford Ash interns in special education at Barnett Elementary in Payson, Utah. (McKay Creative)

“Many politicians and community members believe teaching is an easy job,” Prater said. “They have no idea of how difficult it is and how important it is to have a qualified professional in the classroom.”

Some schools have hired teachers to teach subjects for which they don’t have a college degree.

According to the TeachUtah website, individuals who did not get their bachelor’s degree in education can still receive a Utah Educator License. By going to the American Board website and searching for Utah, people can take self-paced classes and earn their teaching certificate to teach whatever subject is available.

Lynnette Erickson, associate dean of the McKay School of Education, said she is worried about the impact of hiring unskilled teachers. She said those without skills are taking up more time and resources from the schools, leading to a lack of classroom management skills and behavior problems.

Molly Perry reads to her first grade class. Perry just finished teaching for the school year at Providence Hall Charter School in Herriman, Utah. (Julie Meachan)

Erickson said unprepared teachers don’t tend to continue teaching once they realize how difficult the position is, requiring more of them than just standing and lecturing to a class. Teachers then see how unskilled they are, get overwhelmed and eventually quit, Erickson said.

Utah teacher and BYU alumna Molly Perry taught at Providence Hall Charter School in Herriman, Utah for a year and a half. She said she has noticed it is easier to find a replacement for a regular education teacher than a special education teacher.

Perry said she isn’t sure if the district or the school has a plan to combat the teacher shortage.

Perry said some teachers who are leaving Providence Hall Charter School this year are planning on going to Canyons, Jordan and Granite school districts because of higher pay.

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