Teacher mentors
Bill would encourage excellence
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Utah public schools have trouble keeping new teachers. Nearly half of all teachers just starting their careers leave the profession within the first five years.

That kind of turnover is expensive, and it hurts the quality of education schools are able to provide. Another alarming reality is that too many of the teachers who do stick with it are not effective or they become less effective as they continue teaching. Low pay in Utah is partly to blame for teachers quitting, but there are other reasons, too, including a feeling of isolation and lack of guidance to learn the craft and to continue improving skills throughout a career.

Thankfully, a bill making its way through the Legislature would go a long way toward addressing some of the most prevalent reasons for teachers leaving the classroom too soon and for the lack of professionalism among some who stay.

HB115 would provide funding for a pilot program called Peer Assistance and Review that would harness the expertise and experience of the best teachers and give them time to mentor new teachers and veterans whose work is not up to par. It has passed the House and is now in the Senate.

School districts would compete for the cash by proposing plans for designing and implementing the assistance and evaluation system. Districts with effective teacher evaluation systems already in place would have a head start.

The goals of the pilot PAR program, as outlined in HB115 are to: conduct regular evaluations of novice teachers and underperforming veteran teachers and to provide them support and mentoring. Importantly, the mentors in the program would also recommend either keeping or firing the teachers. Those who don't respond to on-going evaluations and assistance have no business in the classroom.

An underperforming teacher is one who has never achieved "career status," which is granted in most districts after a three- to five-year probation period and series of evaluations. A teacher who does not meet district standards of teaching excellence could also be designated underperforming.

To be fair, all districts in the pilot program should have the same or very similar definitions of "career status."

The bill also provides for continuing funding over a five-year period for the PAR Program, subject to future budget constraints.

Utah has many outstanding teachers, and it only makes sense to provide a way for new and struggling teachers to learn from them.