Lack of interest in the profession of teaching leads to major shortage in Utah schools

Posted at 6:34 PM, Feb 08, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-08 20:34:06-05

SALT LAKE CITY – A drop in enrollment at some Utah colleges and universities means fewer teachers to choose from for your child’s class. Utah isn’t immune to the teacher shortage crisis facing the country, forcing the state to come up with creative solutions to make the profession relevant again.

“I get phone calls weekly from across the state, from Nevada, from Idaho, looking for teachers,” says Mary Burbank, Assistant Dean of Teacher Education at the University of Utah.

Burbank said she can’t fill the requested positions because enrollment is down at their training programs. A decade ago, 282 undergraduate students left the university with a Bachelor’s degree in Education. That number has dropped 10 percent.

“About 20 years ago, we had too many people applying to the programs," Burbank said. "We simply don't see the numbers of interested people coming into the field."

What’s behind the decline? There are a variety of reasons: From low pay and benefits, big classroom sizes and attrition from retirement, to public scrutiny over student performance, and rigorous licensing requirements.

“We have to change our approach,” Burbank said.

With no sign of the trend changing course anytime soon, educators at the University of Utah are coming up with creative solutions. They work with the Granite School District in providing students a paid internship.

“Instead of doing a traditional experience, they work with the district for paid employment that equates with the expectations for licensure,” Burbank said.

Ben Horsley with the Granite School District said it’s becoming more and more difficult to attract quality teachers.

The district hired more than 500 new teachers this school year, half of whom were brand new to the profession. They also brought in more than 186 teachers from out of state. They sweetened the deal by offering a $500 signing bonus for new teachers.

“It may not seem like a lot, but when you`re starting salary is $34,000 a year, $500 can seem pretty attractive,” Horsley said.

Educators said there's no immediate fix, but more collaboration with lawmakers could ease the strain.