More than 2,600 educators and community leaders packed into the Mountain America Expo Center on Wednesday for the second annual Show Up for Teachers Conference hosted by Utah’s first lady Abby Cox. The event focused on educator wellness and was free of charge thanks to sponsorships from several local businesses, including headlining sponsor the Clark & Christine Ivory Foundation. 

When Cox’s husband, Gov. Spencer Cox, took office in January 2021 during the pandemic, many Utah teachers were burned out and leaving their profession at high rates. As a former special education teacher herself, Cox knew she could help, and so “Show Up for Teachers” was born to ensure educators throughout Utah felt appreciated and supported. 

“My pledge to you today: As long as I am in this position, and forever afterwards, I will work relentlessly on your behalf,” Cox said to teachers at the beginning of the conference. “I will never stop reminding anyone that will listen to me that you matter, that you need to be heard, that you are responsible for building the next generation of powerful leaders, hopeful warriors and brilliant humans and that it is our responsibility to elevate your efforts in every way possible.” 

Gov. Cox spoke after his wife and commended the sacrifices that teachers make. 

“You are changing lives, and there is no more noble profession than the one that you have chosen. We are grateful for that,” Gov. Cox said. 

People listen as Utah first lady Abby Cox speaks at the Show Up for Teachers Conference at the Mountain America Expo Center in Sandy on Wednesday, July 19, 2023. | Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

For more than eight hours on Wednesday, teachers networked, listened to speakers and learned ways to improve their teaching and mental health. The event was already a success in 2022, but this year’s convention featured more than twice the number of attendees, which included educators from nearly every district, according to Deputy Director of First Lady Initiatives Sarah Allred.  

“I love that this is a celebration of uplifting teachers and talking about our mental health,” teacher Mandy Jensen said. “I love the message that they’re sending … (that) our well-being is important. Because that affects our kids.” 

Additionally, education advocates attended the convention to hear from teachers directly. Abby Cox challenged each of them to speak with at least four teachers during the convention and hear their stories. 

“We want to make sure that we are opening those lines of communication between teachers and policymakers and business leaders so that the community knows the best ways to support teachers and knows how to best make change in that education space,” Allred said. “And we want that to come straight from teachers, rather than anyone else.”

Show Up has also partnered with the Deseret News and Utah Business this year to host a gala to honor educators on Thursday night at the Grand America Hotel. Four Teacher of the Year awards were announced and select businesses and administrators also received recognition. 

The teachers of the year honorees include Jeanette Hufford (elementary teacher, Salt Lake City School District), Nathaniel Reese (business/marketing/hospitality and tourism educator, Alpine School District), Devin Rusch (welding instructor, Roy High School) and Georgiana Kennedy Simpson (visual arts, peer tutor and civics capacity coach, Whitehorse High School).

Others teachers honored include Enrique Arce-Larreta (West High), Sydney Lott (Skyline High), Colleen Pehrson (San Juan School District), Garrett Spalka (John F. Kennedy Jr. High School), Chad Staley (North Summit School District) and Jen Terry (Liberty Hills Elementary).

Administration honorees include Ingrid Andromidas (Mountain View High School), Simon Robert Halper McFall (Saint Olaf Catholic School), Ryan Rarick (Washington County School District), Ross A. Rogers (Jordan School District) and Kayla Towner (Utah Education Network).

Higher education honorees include Dr. William Harman (Roseman University of Health Sciences), Sylvia Read (Utah State University) and Mary M. Robles (Brigham Young University).

Business honorees included Instructure (represented by Shelly Ruff, customer marketing and advocacy), Ivory Homes (represented by Analise Wilson, general counsel), Ken Garff Automotive (represented by CEO Brett Hopkins) and Hope Street Group, Utah Teacher Fellows (represented by Tabitha Pacheco, director of education programs).

“This is where Deseret News has stepped in to bolster that message from the community that, ‘Yes, we appreciate what you’re doing. We think you’re doing a great job, and what can we do to help?’” Allred said.

More than 125 local businesses filled the expo hall on Wednesday to thank educators for their service through giveaways, discounts and more. Teachers received free massages, spun prize wheels and played virtual golf. Megaplex Theatres even had a “Barbie”-inspired pink sports car on display.

“Teachers are such a big part of our community, so as businesses, it’s great that we can give back and help teachers as well,” said Melissa Papj of TruGolf. 

Local businesses included Splash Summit Waterpark, Crumbl Cookies and Wife Teacher Mommy, one of several teacher-owned businesses present, which offers teachers and parents an abundance of educational resources. Educators also received goodie bags filled with donated gifts from companies. 

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“I just like being here,” teacher Shantell Peterson said. “I feel so much love and appreciation for teachers in general.”

Author and Harvard Business School professor Arthur C. Brooks speaks at the Show Up for Teachers Conference at the Mountain America Expo Center in Sandy on Wednesday, July 19, 2023. | Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

Harvard professor and bestselling author Arthur Brooks and educator Michael Bonner were the convention’s two keynote speakers. Brooks, who was named a Gardner Institute Impact Scholar at the University of Utah last year, began the conference with a speech on well-being, sharing the science behind happiness to help listeners live more purposeful lives. 

Additionally, 48 breakout sessions covering topics like classroom management and conflict resolution were available for all attendants. Educators also had the opportunity to receive free professional re-licensure points from the Utah State Board of Education or credits from Southern Utah University.  

Bonner, who has been seen on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” “NBC Nightly News” and the Discovery Channel for Education, ended the day with a seminar.

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