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Utah teachers embrace school choice

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As a child, my mom empowered me to have choices in what I wore, what I ate for lunch and which books to read. She taught me the importance of creating situations where children have the ability to exercise choice so they can learn how to choose wisely. As a professional educator, I still value options and having the ability to make the best career choice that fits my personal desires and the needs of my family.

I began my teaching career in Alpine District at Pleasant Grove Junior High teaching French and Spanish then moved to Ohio and spent a decade at a bricks-and-mortar district high school in Columbus. I absolutely enjoyed the experience and loved connecting with students and watching them grow in their abilities. There is nothing better than the "a-ha" moment for a teacher.

However, due to family circumstances and my particular skill set, I began searching for options to advance my career that would allow me the flexibility needed to balance my love for teaching with my growing family and my husband's demanding job. My love for technology coupled with my own unique set of personal circumstances led me to realize that the high-tech, interactive online arena was a perfect career choice for me. Ultimately, this is where I have chosen to continue my professional journey.

In recognizing my own unique involvement in education, I have discovered that school choice creates options for students, but it also provides a choice for teachers just like me. Whether it is a public charter school in Salt Lake City, a traditional district school in Ogden, a private Christian school in St. George or an online virtual school serving children across the state, these settings not only benefit students, but teachers as well.

As a veteran educator and current director of an online public school here in Utah, I lead a team of diverse professionals in creating an individualized, student-centered environment that meets the needs of our 21st century learners, our digital natives and next generation of worldwide leaders. I am thrilled to be part of a growing movement of teachers who have embraced new and emerging job opportunities made possible by advancing technology and school choice policies here in Utah and nationwide.

When I started teaching in a district school, there weren't many other choices available. Today, teachers here in Utah and across the country, have a number of career options available to them. In an exciting time for the profession, teachers are now able to match their ideal teaching position with the school environment that best fits their schedule and ultimate vision for education.

We've all heard varying opinions about specific school choice policies and their impact on students, and strangely, some try and paint this as a threat to teachers, but really it is an inevitable evolution that promises unlimited potential for the profession.

The fact is that a dedicated teacher — perhaps a new mother who finds it difficult to commit to the schedule of a traditional public school — should not have to leave the profession. We should not be turning away great teachers but finding ways for our best and brightest to share their talents with students.

As the world evolves, success stories of teachers landing positions that offer "the best of both worlds" emerge. Teachers gain additional career choices that allow them to set a more flexible teaching schedule through online and blended-learning environments, to select the best fit for their unique situation that meets family and career needs simultaneously and to be recognized for their heroic daily efforts both locally and nationally. Choice in the teaching arena has attracted record numbers of new and experienced professionals and may very well become the new norm of modern-day education.

This week, as part of the National School Choice week movement, Utah's non-union organization for teachers, the Association of American Educators, will be hosting member educators across the state in an event designed to celebrate teachers and school choice. As my mother taught me so many years ago, choice is good, whether it's for clothes, food or for education.

DeLaina Tonks is the director of the Open High School of Utah. She resides in Draper.