Sunday , July 29, 2018 - 5:15 AM
Denise Willmore has been teaching for 24 years. She had to sacrifice a lot to become a teacher.
During one student-teaching practice, Willmore had to find another job to be able to make ends meet.
Ten years ago she started teaching at Davis School District and she said she received support from her colleagues. But things were different.
Then, most teachers were traditionally trained, meaning they went to a university and got a degree in education before getting their teacher’s license. She attributes her success as a teacher to her two student-teaching experiences.
“I feel that, yes, it was a lot of time. I had to work a night job,” Willmore said. “However, I wouldn’t trade that for the world.”
Willmore is among a growing number of traditionally trained teachers who have voiced their concerns about Utah's increasingly lax licensure requirements for teachers.
She is also among a decreasing number of teachers that are traditionally trained — many of the new hires in the state entered the profession through alternative routes.
According to nonprofit Envision Utah, in 2017, teachers from university teaching programs in Utah made up 34 percent of new teachers. In 2007, the number of teachers from university teaching programs in the state was 58 percent. This is the first time the number of teachers trained at a university in the state decreased from the prior year.
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The group’s projection shows that it is expected that teachers from university teaching programs in the state would make up less than half of the state’s teacher workforce in 2030.
“We don’t know exactly why. That’s the million dollar question,” Jason Brown, the vice president of Envision Utah, said. “What this does show is that people who choose to study teaching in college ... tend to stay in the classroom at a higher rate.”
‘THIS IS NOT ROCKET SCIENCE’
Willmore, a second-grade teacher with Davis schools, said a couple of years ago she was assigned a new hire for her to mentor.
The new hire had a science background and was licensed through an Alternative Pathway to Teaching, or APT.
APT requires future teachers with a bachelor’s degree from a state accredited university to take content-knowledge test approved by the Utah School Board of Education in order to get a Level 1 license. They don’t necessarily get the training in pedagogy that teachers who go to a university or through an ARL get.
Many of these teachers that enter the field through the APT have no experience teaching in a classroom before their first day of class.
Willmore said the new hire told her at the beginning of a school semester that she didn’t need that much help since teaching “is not rocket science.” That teacher quit after a year.
“I believe that teaching is one those professions where you feel you are on an island by yourself,” Willmore said. “If you don’t have the proper training it can feel even lonelier.”
According to the report from Envision Utah, only 9 percent of teachers trained at a university in the state leave each year. That compares to 14.88 percent of APT teachers, 9.80 percent of ARL teachers, 13.03 percent of teachers with a school district-specific license, and 23.36 percent with a temporary or no license.
Jessica Bennington is the human resources director at Ogden School District. She said that for the upcoming 2018-2019 school year, the school district has hired 71 teachers who are licensed and 12 who are completing their license via an alternative route.
Last year, the school district hired over 80 teachers who were licensed and 17 educators who were completing their license via an alternative pathway.
“We hired fewer ARL and APT (teachers) because this year we hired more licensed (teachers),” Bennington said. “We are pretty lucky in that regards.”
Weber School District hired more than 140 teachers last year. Out of that number, only 26 new hires were trained through ARL or APT. And in Davis School District, out of 404 teachers hired last year, 269 went through a traditional program while 135 went through an alternate route.
Bianca Mittendorf was hired about two years ago to teach in Davis School District. She obtained her license through an Alternative Routes to Licensure program, after realizing she really wanted to teach.
As an ARL candidate, she worked full time in the classroom while going to Utah State University’s satellite campus at night to complete her courses.
She said having life experience doing something else has been an asset in her teaching.
“Doing an ARL program like the one I did, I think we get the bad rep that we bought a degree,” Mittendorf said. “I would hope people would reward and recognize the hard work and dedication that goes through getting that degree.”
CHANGES TO RULES
But why do teachers leave?
An answer could be summarized in one word: lack — lack of mentorship programs, lack of funding, lack of resources.
But still, the state is looking for ways to tackle the teacher shortage it is facing.
Currently, in Utah, people wanting to teach can get into the profession through one of eight options.
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The Utah State Board approved Rule 277-301 in May, which streamlines the process of getting a teacher license into three categories: associate, professional and LEA-specific educator license.
Emilie Wheeler, Utah State Board of Education spokeswoman, told the Standard-Examiner in an email that about two years ago the board looked at the licensing system and found out that “we have a licensing system that has been pieced together over 30 years.”
“Everyone agrees the system has become overly complicated and, more importantly, inequitable to educators,” Wheeler said. “The changes being proposed now and in the future are intended to simplify the system so it is understandable and transparent to the public, ensure that the requirements to be a licensed teacher are consistent regardless of the individual’s path to licensing, and to focus on demonstration of competency rather than seat-time based requirements.”
On July 12, however, the Utah State Board of Education held a hearing after the Utah Education Association requested one to present their concerns with the new changes. This automatically stalled the rule’s previous effective date.
If approved, the rule would go in effect on January 1, 2020.
These changes, however, have created some controversy, specifically among traditionally trained teachers.
Heidi Matthews, the Utah Education Association president, told the Standard-Examiner that the changes proposed are only a temporary fix, and that the state needs to look instead at funding schools better.
“We need teachers,” Matthews said. “We welcome them into the profession, but we also want to recognize that this is a structure we don’t want to perpetuate.”
She said teachers without prior experience in the field often rely on veteran teachers to achieve their goals, putting a burden on those with more experience in the classroom.
“Not only do they have to do their job … they are having to mentor these underprepared teachers,” Matthews said. “We are in this position because of chronic underfunding in the state of Utah.”
Matthews said most of the underprepared teachers end up in underserved areas, perpetuating an issue of educational inequity in the state.
Yvonne Speckman is the president of the Davis Education Association. She has seen a lot of changes in the state’s education system, but one of the biggest changes she has been in the license changes.
“It’s just a Band-Aid and it’s not going to fix anything,” Speckman said. “It’s not an easy job so making it easier for people to come because they have content knowledge is not necessarily what’s best for the students.”
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