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Opinion: Will the teacher shortage continue? Advice for Utah’s educators

Nationally, the teacher shortage is hurting many school districts, including those in Utah. What can we tell teachers that will make them come and stay?

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Tiffany Hatch, a first grade teacher at South Clearfield Elementary in Clearfield, teaches students on Dec. 15, 2021.

Tiffany Hatch, a first grade teacher at South Clearfield Elementary in Clearfield, teaches students on Dec. 15, 2021.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

The start of the school year is usually met with feelings of excitement for students and teachers to reconnect as they reimagine their routines for the new academic year. However, this anticipation runs parallel with some discouraging professional challenges that aren’t unique to school districts in Utah.

According to a recent National Education Association survey, an alarming 55% of educators indicate they’re ready to leave the profession earlier than planned. Teacher turnover, shortages and vacancies have become a problem in some Utah school districts. 

The Utah State Legislature recently released their annual audit on Utah schools. Here’s the districts that have struggled the most in the past few years:

 Wayne School District has seen the highest turnover of teachers: up to 18% for 2021.

One possible reason for this is because Wayne school district has one of the lowest pay wages for teachers in the state. A minimum pay of $39,000 annually for those with a bachelor’s degree and a minimum pay of $43,000 for those with a master’s degree.

Daggett School District has endured the greatest shortage of teachers, reporting a 33% shortage for 2021. Multiple school districts reported having teacher vacancies which had to be filled by substitutes, administrators, or other teachers. This has included Washington, Cache, Tooele, Davis, Jordan and Weber school districts.

Regardless of these challenges, students will return to classrooms, and teachers will be tasked with shaping the next generation of Utah’s workforce. Educators undoubtedly leave a profound impact on young learners. We must ensure we do everything we can to continue not only encouraging others to consider this career path, but also staying in the field year after year. 

It’s no secret this profession can be taxing. With the proper tools and tactics, teachers can take the necessary steps to care for themselves throughout this next year to ensure they’re reenergized to continue molding Utah’s future leaders.

Prioritize being a difference-maker. According to a Varkey Foundation survey published by the World Economic Forum, teaching is in the top 10 among the world’s most respected professions. This acknowledgement stems from a teacher’s potential positive influence over students and colleagues — an impact which lasts forever. Teachers should own this ability. Embrace it. Encourage it in their colleagues. It may sound trite, but it’s more than true: a teacher’s smallest act can make the biggest of differences with the students they teach and reach.

 Choose to connect and collaborate. Though teachers may encounter challenges and changes throughout their careers, one thing is certain: they’re never alone. Just by entering the teaching profession, they’re forever allied with educators from many disciplines with whom they can connect and collaborate. They are part of a community in which influential bonds with students shape their futures. The WGU Learning Community helps teachers keep up to date on the latest in higher education.

Choose to thrive. As a new educator, a teacher has chosen a path paved with endless possibilities to make a tremendous impact. The importance of their work has never been greater. Appreciating their value as an educator will help them understand the unique situations of the students that they teach. However, they need to remember to do this good work in a good way. Social-emotional learning, for example, is an important component of our Teachers College’s curriculum, and what works for students can also work for teachers. In short, teachers need to stay healthy — mentally and physically — and keep learning. Their health, wellness and continued professional growth can be a bulwark against the many challenges that come their way. 

If you’re a paraprofessional, a classroom aide, an aspiring teacher or a working professional ready to make the switch to a more meaningful career in the classroom, check out WGU’s Teacher College scholarships. We’re here to surround our teachers with the support they need to ensure a successful new year.

While the education landscape has certainly changed — and will continue to evolve — you are educators for a reason. Many crucial decisions led you to this moment, and you have the passion and the power to change lives. Your talent and vision are a vital part of this. Never forget how important you are to so many, and never forget the power of your choices.

By Dr. Tonya Drake, regional vice president of Western Governors University. Dr. Mark David Milliron is senior vice president of Western Governors University and executive dean of the School of Education