SOUTHERN UTAH — In the wake of a teacher shortage in several school districts across the state, the Utah State Board of Education approved a new rule that would allow professionals with a bachelor’s degree to bypass education coursework on the path to becoming level 1 licensed teachers. The reactions to this announcement have varied from school district to school district. Individual educators are also divided on the matter.
Statistics from the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future report that nearly 50 percent of new teachers will leave the profession after five years. Further information from the Metlife Survey of American Teachers says that teacher job satisfaction has dropped 15 points since 2009, from 59 percent who were very satisfied to 44 percent who are very satisfied, the lowest level in over 20 years.
High turnover rates and low job satisfaction have led to a shortage in qualified teachers across the nation, and it is being felt in Utah.
The “Academic Pathway to Teaching” license was provided for under administrative rule 511 and allows professionals to begin teaching in the classroom almost immediately. Previous to this new method, prospective teachers had two other alternatives to obtain a teaching license outside of a university education program: an LEA license and ARL license.
- An LEA license is provided by the Local Education Authority or school district. This is an immediate license provided to a qualified individual specific to their field of teaching. This type of license is temporary and only valid in the district that has issued it.
- The Alternative Route to Licensure has been available for some time. It helps a prospective teacher begin teaching in the classroom before all of the final coursework has been completed. A candidate must apply to the Utah State Board of Education, be hired by a school district and create a professional growth plan. They will then have three years to complete necessary coursework in education from an accredited college or university. This license can be used anywhere.
For the Academic Pathway to Teaching – or APT – license, teachers must pass a content knowledge test in their field and complete three years of training under the mentoring of a level 2 Master teacher who helps with pedagogy and classroom management for the candidate. This mentoring replaces instruction that would normally occur through education coursework.
After the three years of training, the candidate would receive a teaching license based on the supervision of the education authority/school district.
Washington County School District reaction
Steven Dunham, director of communications for the Washington County School District, said that the teacher shortage hasn’t reached Washington County yet.
For the 2016-17 school year, the district hired 120 new teachers, Dunham said, adding that they are essentially fully staffed with only a few open positions.
That doesn’t mean the district won’t eventually feel it, Dunham said.
In order to combat the effects of the possibly looming teacher shortage, Dunham said the district is working on a balance between retaining good teachers – giving them the support and respect they need – and recruiting the best new teachers, whether from accredited university education programs or through alternate paths.
The school district has a strong professional development program aimed at teacher retention that is already in place and proving successful, said Cody Plumhof, communications coordinator for Washington County School District.
In addition to teacher retention, Washington County School District administrators remain open to recruiting professionals and subject matter experts into the field of teaching through alternate routes if the candidate is right for the district, Dunham said.
However, one of the problems with the new Academic Pathway to Teaching rule as a viable option for addressing the current or impending teacher shortage is that it requires the school district to take an already seasoned teacher from their job in order to mentor the prospective teacher, Dunham said.
It might not make sense for the district to use its valuable teachers in that manner, Dunham said.
That being said, Dunham said that the district would consider hiring professionals who are seeking their licensure through the Academic Pathway to Teaching if they were to find the correct person with the necessary skills along with the need of those skills in the classroom.
“Washington County School District is going to hire the best teaching candidate,” Dunham said, “then provide the support to help make them successful.”
Iron County School District reaction
The Iron County School District has a different story.
Superintendent Shannon Dulaney said Iron County has started to feel the teacher shortage. This year the district has already hired one teacher who is seeking licensure through the Academic Pathway to Teaching, she said.
Dulaney understands the state board’s intentions in giving districts another option to fill positions and find qualified teachers through the new rule. She added that the districts are given the ability to decide whether or not to hire professionals who have chosen the Academic Pathway to Teaching.
“We will always hire first, teachers who have gone through a teacher preparation course,” Dulaney said.
But if the need arises, the district will hire teachers who have taken alternate routes, she said, adding that the district has always had a viable mentoring program and a great support system for all of their new teachers whether they came from an accredited education program or took a different path to licensure.
The new state board rule has caused some consternation among teachers who, at best, believe it is potentially scary to allow inexperienced teachers in the classroom and, at worse, feel it is a giant slap in the face to those who spent the time and money in a university program to become a professional teacher.
Katherine Call has a bachelor’s degree in dance performance. She said she was a dancer first and didn’t learn to love teaching until much later.
Call is concerned that though many professionals can be considered subject matter experts, they don’t have the classroom experience necessary to be a successful teacher.
Call was an adjunct professor at Dixie State University and also received her secondary education license from Dixie State University. To be an adjunct teacher, she said, you only have to have a bachelor’s degree, and she is worried that the state board might be thinking that if it works for college, then it should also work for public education.
But public education is totally different, she said.
“In public education you are not teaching your craft,” Call said, “you are teaching kids.”
Call formerly taught dance at Snow Canyon High School and is currently teaching dance at Taylorsville High School located in the Granite School District where she is also in charge of the dance company.
Even though Call has a passion for dance and dance education, she said she is not just training dancers. She is teaching kids to show up for class and hoping to instill in them at least an appreciation for dance and the arts, she said.
Call believes that many of the lessons learned through university education courses are invaluable in helping to manage a classroom, diversify a lesson plan and understand the state core and testing requirements.
The difficulty she sees with the new state board rule is that she feels it would add to high teacher turnover rates rather than help with the looming teacher shortage.
“If you aren’t given any tools, it is going to be really hard,” Call said. “I think they will lose teachers faster.”
Not every educator agrees with Call. Some feel the new rule will allow the districts to attract professionals and subject matter experts to the teaching field who can bring passion and creativity to the classroom.
Shawn Maxwell is one of these educators. Maxwell has been in the education field – both at the public and university level – for 21 years.
Maxwell graduated valedictorian from Southern Utah University’s Master of Education program. He described himself at that time as a bright-eyed student who was taught all the philosophy and ideology of the field of education but soon learned it was almost useless in a real classroom.
After a week at my first job in Wendover, I threw all of that out the window; it was useless. … Students, all humans (and higher animals actually) only have memories for events related to strong emotion. We remember our crazy, scary, funny dreams in greater detail than the boring ones.
The classroom is an experience. If it’s emotionless, it’s not remembered. If there was emotion, then the child goes home proclaiming what happened that day in school without having to be asked. This is an obvious truth, yet education on all levels works against this truth. They want all students to be comfortable and never offended —the very environment crucial to retention of the lessons.
So, when I see that Utah is allowing non-endorsed individuals to become teachers, I don’t mind. It’s much more important to have creative instructors who know how to connect emotionally with the students. That ability has never, nor will it ever be taught in college.
Maxwell recently resigned from the Washington County School District to pursue opening a private institution that he called a “true private school,” free of in any influence by special interests.
Professionals looking to apply for the Academic Pathway to Teaching license must follow the step-by-step application process found on the Utah State Board of Education website.
The website also contains a list of frequently asked questions for professionals who are seeking out this new route to licensure, as well as school districts and charters who may consider hiring a professional with this type of license.
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