For Jackie Rigby, student teaching is both a marathon and a sprint.
She teaches third grade at Whittier Elementary School in West Valley City, goes to the University of Utah to complete the coursework she needs to earn her bachelor degree in elementary education and teaches private dance lessons to earn some income.
Some days she arrives at school early to attend faculty meetings, which extends her regular hours at the Granite District school, which means she is at school from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. On Tuesday nights, she has a college class, so the day is nearly 12 hours long before she gets home.
Most days after the school day ends, she goes home, makes dinner, plans her lessons and reviews them for the next day.
“Then I go to bed and then do it again,” she said.
As a student teacher, Rigby receives no compensation for her work, and has even dipped into her savings to make ends meet while she completes the final portion of her educator training. She is on track to graduate in May.
A bill sponsored by Rep. Karen Peterson, R-Clinton, aims to change that.
HB221, if passed by Utah lawmakers, would help support new educators as they fulfill their full-time student teaching requirement. The bill would provide them a $6,000 stipend to help support their needs during a semester of full-time student teaching.
“By creating a stipend program for future educators, we allow them to focus on preparing to be excellent teachers, gaining mentorship and real-life classroom experience,” said Peterson in a prepared statement.
Rigby said she and her peers would welcome such a stipend.
She recently married and she and her spouse have moved in with her parents so they don’t have to pay rent while she completes her student teaching this semester.
Rigby said she’s fortunate to have that option. Some of her college classmates are attempting to work other jobs, draw on their savings or sink deeper into debt to cover expenses while they complete their teacher training.
A stipend would help considerably, Rigby said.
“I mean $6,000 would make a difference because I just know so many of my peers are struggling. It’s a lot already like a big load already and then to have money be an issue is really stressful. So I’m really excited, if this goes through, for the student teachers in the future,” she said.
Peterson’s bill was one of several highlighted by Utah lawmakers during a press conference Wednesday. The measures are intended to improve teacher retention and recruitment.
They range from HB431, which would require school districts to provide at least three weeks of paid maternity leave to SB173, which would make high-performing teachers eligible for “salary supplements” of $10,000, which would be doubled if they teach at a high poverty school.
According to the bill, teachers performing among the top 5% of teachers would be eligible for a $10,000 supplement. Teachers in the next 6% to 10% of teachers would be eligible for a $5,000 supplement and teachers rated in the 11%-25% would be eligible for $2,000.
Districts or charter boards do not have to participate in the annual salary supplement program but those that do must develop a process to assess a teachers’ performance.
“The biggest part of this bill will identify the top-performing teachers in the state who are leaders in their school, mentors to their colleagues, and who are in assignments where they do the greatest good for the kids that are in the most need,” said the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Lincoln Fillmore, R-South Jordan.
“We’re going to reward those teachers with bonuses of $20,000 so that a teacher who’s mid-career in Utah will be able to know, when they start, if I am successful in this job and I am able to move up, I can earn $100,000 a year and support my family. We want every teacher to know that teaching is a six-figure profession.”
Utah Senate President J. Stuart Adams, R-Layton, said in recent years, the Utah Legislature has appropriated record funding to boost teacher salaries.
“Over the last 10 years, no one has increased education spending more than Utah and we’ve gotten great outcomes,” he said.
Adams, who has 16 grandchildren and a daughter who is a school teacher, said Utah has “the very best, most talented, dedicated teachers in America. It shows because our return on our investment on education is the highest in America. Last year you may have noticed that we gave teachers a significant increase. We have one of the highest starting salaries in the West and I think we have some of the highest compensation in the West, if not America.”
Rigby declined to comment on the other compensation measures but expressed excitement about launching her career.
She comes from a long line of teachers, “my mom, my grandma, my great grandma, so it’s always kind of been a question for me if I would do it, too.”
When she arrived at the U., she started teaching dance.
“I loved working with the girls I taught dance to and I think with the influence of my mom and just I love working with children, I just made the decision that I wanted to be a teacher,” she said.
Rigby enrolled in education classes to see if she liked it “and I really enjoyed my classes. Whenever I got to observe or in a class in elementary schools for my classes, I love the environment, the learning and the growth. I just really like working with the students,” she said.
This semester, she’s leading a class of third graders and looking forward to starting career in elementary education in the near future.
Third grade, she said, is a sweet spot.
“I’ve really liked third grade. They are so young and so cute, but then also more independent and we have a lot of fun in class,” Rigby said.