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2 districts seeking to 'grow' teachers

Proposal by S.L., Jordan districts targets shortages

Two school districts want to "grow their own" instructors as a national teacher shortage creeps into Utah classrooms.

The Salt Lake City School District and the Jordan Board of Education are suggesting high school classes to draw students into the profession and offer experience through internships and tutoring programs. The Salt Lake District received a grant to create the class, which it will introduce Tuesday evening.

"Just as Utah is beginning to really see the impact of the teacher shortage that's been long talked about and looming, along comes a way that can help us to get kids who are committed to (teaching in) Salt Lake City," Cindi Seidel, Salt Lake District assistant superintendent for educational services, said.

Or, as Jordan school board president Ralph Haws puts it: "There are a lot of things we have to do. It's a pretty bleak picture."

Last fall, Wasatch Front school districts began the school year without enough teachers. That's despite recruiting at regional career fairs, establishing Salt Lake teacher exchanges with Spain, India and the Philippines, and boosting retirement and health insurance benefits.

A graying teaching force compounds difficulties. About 20 percent of Utah teachers are expected to retire in five years, a Utah State University study found. Also, 30 percent of new teachers quit within the first five years.

States are stepping up teacher recruiting efforts in hopes of reversing the teacher shortage. Some offer new recruits $20,000 bonuses.

The 2001 Legislature created the Public Education Job Enhancement Program to attract, train and retain qualified math, science and technology teachers and offer up to $20,000 in cash or a scholarship for advanced degrees.

Utah faces shortages in special education and English as a second language (ESL) teachers. With budgetary constraints, districts here and across the country are resorting to creativity in shaping the next generation of teachers.

The Salt Lake District will unveil a new "Teaching Professions Academy," which will include classes on becoming a teacher and tutoring and internship programs.

The academy, which received a $25,000 planning grant from the Council of Great City Schools and Recruiting New Teachers Inc., enlists tutoring and mentoring help from education departments at the University of Utah and Westminster College.

The first class likely will be offered to Salt Lake high school students this time next year; a series of classes will be available in the 2002-03 school year, Seidel said.

"Every teen in the world says, 'Why do I have to learn this?' These academies . . . help to make their high school education relevant to students' interests and help them shape their career goals. Everyone benefits from that," she said.

The Jordan school board also suggests offering a high school class encouraging students to become teachers. The class could be part of the teachers aide period and including tutoring activities, Haws said.

Jordan District also is offering a $2,000 bonus as incentive for ESL and special education teachers to come to its schools. It also wants to find money to expand its pilot teacher mentoring program to help keep teachers around. New teachers who get mentoring help score higher on evaluations and require less help than those who don't, the district has found.

The ideas might help but won't be a panacea, Jordan Education Association President Wendy Bromley said.