This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
In Utah public education today we find ourselves in quite a conundrum. We have a shortage of qualified teachers to provide the quality instruction that our children not only deserve but that they are entitled to – in parallel with deciding exactly what qualifications an individual needs to be a classroom teacher.
This issue came to public attention recently as the Utah Board of Education approved an option to provide a different route for obtaining a teaching license which would circumvent traditional teaching certification programs designed to prepare individuals to be proficient in the art of teaching. It has been met with a great deal of resistance from teachers, administrators and the public at large with good reason. I do commend our Utah State Board of Education members for their effort in trying to address a real problem in a timely manner.
Those opposed to the proposal argue that the plan will put individuals in the classroom who are not prepared to successfully survive the rigors of teaching or have skills to provide a quality education to students. They also point out that an additional burden will be placed upon those teachers asked to mentor the newcomers. These are valid concerns that should receive consideration by our state board as it moves forward.
However, board members should also consider the other side of the question, which is that there will be many current teaching positions that will go unfilled. What that translates to realistically is that long-term substitutes will be required to fill those positions, or already stretched class sizes would need to be increased to ensure all children are taught by a qualified, licensed teacher. Neither of these options are satisfactory, thus the "conundrum" in which we presently find ourselves.
President John F. Kennedy once stated, "Our problems are man-made, therefore they may be solved by man. And man can be as big as he wants. No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings." Although not an optimum solution, perhaps in the short term the proposal by the state board should not be dismissed but used as a temporary solution.
We have the obligation for the well-being of our society and the responsibility to actively solve our problem as human beings. We cannot rely on the situation to just correct itself. We must do this, not by pointing fingers and blaming others, but by recognizing that each of us plays a critical role in restoring teaching to the noble profession that it deserves to be.
Legislators: You have a constitutional obligation to provide for the education of the children of our state. Please be thoughtful about the long-term impact that your legislation has on our classroom teachers. Please do not pass legislation that erodes their classroom authority or their ability to hold students accountable. Although there is not sufficient money to pay them what they are worth, at least make it a priority to raise salaries. Although salary may not be the entire reason a teacher leaves the profession, it certainly helps in attracting quality individuals to the profession.
Administrators: Remember your roots and recognize the added challenges teachers face with our ever changing demographics. Be your teachers' strongest advocate; talk with legislators and other elected officials, parents and other community members and help them understand the dedication that our classroom teachers have for educating our children. Explain that they have chosen this profession because they want to make a difference and contribute to society.
Teachers: Take an active role in your future. Share your personal stories with your legislators and let them know how their actions directly impact you. Explain rather than complain, and better yet, offer thoughtful solutions. Share positive aspects of the being a teacher, such as the joy you experience when the "light" turns on in one of your students as they grasp a concept or gain a skill that they have had difficulty mastering; or when a student you haven't seen for years stops you and tells you that you were their favorite teacher and thanks you for everything you did for them.
Parents: Have empathy for your children's teachers. Remember how difficult it can be raising your family and the challenges as they grow and develop. Take your experience and multiply it by the 25-40 kids in a classroom. Then, consider that many of these children may not speak English or may have special needs requiring much individual attention. Understand that due to financial challenges that teacher may be supplementing student needs with money out of their own pocket. Finally, realize that perhaps your child is not always right and the teacher may have disciplined them for an appropriate reason and support them in their decisions as you would ask your family members to support you.
We all need to do our part to encourage talented young individuals into the education profession and support them once they are in the classroom. Together, we can figure out our educational conundrums.
Steve Hirase, Ed.D., is superintendent of Murray School District.