Inside Utah’s teacher shortage

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Students at Hillcrest High School may have noticed that their classes are bigger this year. Many assumed this was because of an influx of students, but that isn’t the case. Utah is known for being one of the worst states for large class sizes, but the problem isn’t more students. The problem is less teachers.

Hillcrest itself lost teachers last year, nine teachers left, and only four were replaced. Hillcrest High’s recent average student to teacher ratio is twenty-three to one, a number that seems too small to some of Hillcrest’s teachers, but is high compared to the national average, sixteen to one. Hillcrest’s American Sign Language teacher, Mrs. VanDusen, says her class sizes often push 45 students per class period, and Mrs. Bullock, an English teacher at Hillcrest, laughed at the school’s recorded ratio and said, “That’s not reality.”

The student ratio is expected to grow, too. A study by the University of Utah showed that more than half of Utah’s teachers left the profession between 2008 and 2015, and In 1975, more than 22% of college students majored in education. by 2015, however, that number had dropped to less than ten percent, and hasn’t gone up since.

High class sizes have negative impacts on both teachers and students. “The number one thing that I think of is grading.” Mrs. VanDusen says, “I can’t even get through one class period’s tests in one prep period. So those types of things are things I have to do at home, when I should be spending time with my family.”

Students are also negatively impacted by large class sizes. A study from Envision Utah shows that only 41 percent of Utahn’s are satisfied with the quality of K-12 education in the state. The more students a teacher has, the less time that teacher can spend on each student, making it so students aren’t getting enough attention for a quality education.

School districts are coming up with various ways of coping with the shortage. Canyons School district offered raises to many teachers staying into the coming school year, and many school districts have simply lowered their standards for teachers, opting to hire people without a teaching degree.

Something to consider is why teachers are leaving at such an alarming rate. It’s no secret that teachers are underpaid. Teachers earn 20% less than those with college degrees in other fields, and the average Utah teacher makes $49,353 per year, compared to the national average at $58,950 per year.

Underpayment forces many teachers to leave for better-paying opportunities. “When your job is hard, as rewarding as it may be, you gotta pay the bills,” says Bullock. Underneath underpayment, many teachers feel that the problem is being undervalued. “When I’m not appreciated for what I do,” VanDusen said, “that’s when I’m like, okay, I could go somewhere else and get paid a lot more.”

Among other reasons, another is that when a teacher starts their first year in their own classroom, many feel under-prepared. Teachers with little to no preparation for the classroom are two and a half times more likely to quit after their first year. “I definitely felt under-prepared,” Mr. Hobbs, an English teacher at Hillcrest, said, continuing to say that he felt like student teaching was not enough preparation to start teaching. “I feel like when you’re done with college, they just cut you loose, and say, you’re on your own, kid.”

On the teacher shortage, VanDusen says, “I think until we take a hard look at our educational system, and we take a hard look at how we can value teachers, there’s gonna be a shortage.

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