More teachers needed in Utah schools

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Christina Jacobs teaches seventh graders at South Hills middle school. (Emily Ashcraft)

Not enough students are choosing education as a career.

As the need for educators increases, the number of students enrolled in teacher preparation programs around the nation is decreasing. In Utah, there is an average of 22 students to each teacher; the national average is 16.

Lower wages for teachers, compared to other jobs with the same level of education, are contributing to the problem. The average salary for teachers in Utah is between $52,000 and $55,000 per year — much lower than the average salary for other jobs requiring a bachelor’s degree.

(Haley Mosher)

In June of 2016, the Utah State Board of Education approved the Academic Pathway to Teaching, allowing anyone with a bachelor’s degree to get a teaching certificate by simply passing a test.

Gary Seastrand, BYU associate clinical professor of education, said he is concerned teachers are not receiving necessary training because of the law.

“A lot of people think anyone can teach,” Seastrand said. “There’s a lot to know about being a teacher.”

Seastrand spent 36 years in Utah’s public education system before coming to BYU. He said being a teacher gave him a huge opportunity to make a difference in the world.

Lynnette Erickson, associate dean of the McKay School of Education, said besides finances, the lack of respect shown towards teachers is also causing students to choose majors other than education.

According to Erickson, the McKay School of Education has hired a recruitment specialist to help people know the benefits of studying and working in education.

“We’ve decided to be more proactive and help people to understand what this is all about. We need to help kids in elementary school up through high school to understand what it means to be a teacher,” Erickson said.

Erickson said people shouldn’t choose a career based on the money, but on the satisfaction.

“When you see that light go on for a kid, and you see their self-esteem rise with that, there’s nothing better,” Erickson said.

BYU student Dylan Sawyer is studying to be a social science teacher. Sawyer said he decided to go into teaching after an experience when a teacher reached out to him individually.

“(The experience) made me realize that teaching is a lot more than the materials and saying this is what you need to learn, it’s engaging and being a mentor to students,” Sawyer said.

BYU alumna Christina Jacobs is a Utah studies teacher at South Hills Middle School in Riverton. Jacobs said she decided to go into teaching after having teachers who were role models for her.

Jacobs said her class typically has 33-34 students, but since the school she works at is in a growing area, her class usually gets bigger throughout the year. For example, Jacobs said 15 more students moved into her classes during the last school year, increasing the demand for teachers in her area.

Jacobs said even though she teaches 7th grade, which is typically hardest to teach, she builds respect with her students by following set rules, learning who they are and treating them as individuals.

Jacobs said she gets to share her passion and make a difference in the students’ lives through teaching.

On Sept. 20 the Sutherland Institute held a panel discussion to address what Utah can do about the shortage of teachers. This event was the first in a series of education innovation meetings.

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