Utah schools, faced with a growing teacher shortage, can now hire people who have relevant professional experience but no teaching experience.
The Utah State Board of Education voted on Friday to create an alternative pathway to obtaining a teaching license. School districts and charter schools can hire individuals with professional experience in certain content areas like computer science, as long as they have a bachelor’s degree, submit college transcripts to education administrators, pass the state test required for teacher certification, complete an educator ethics review, and pass a background check. After being hired, that individual will have to go through three years of supervision and mentoring from a “master teacher” designated by the school before receiving licensure.
The move, which was adopted unanimously by the board, is meant to stem the hemorrhage of teachers in the state.
Forty-two percent of teachers quit within the five years of starting, and more than one-third of those who quit teaching do so at the end of their first year, according to the Utah State Office of Education. There have also been declines in the number of prospective teachers graduating from Utah universities, the Deseret News reported. Meanwhile, Utah’s student population is rising every year—state schools gained nearly 12,000 new students last year.
Critical shortages are concentrated in subject areas like computer science and high school math and science. This new plan aims to draw professionals in those fields into teaching.
While those professionals will not have gone through classes in education school, the state school board vice chairman, Dave Thomas, said having a mentor teacher for three years will help the new teacher learn pedagogy and teaching methodology, according to the Deseret News.
But some expressed concerns about the change.
Sara Jones, director of education for the Utah Education Association, told the Deseret News that while the association wasn’t opposed to alternative paths to licensure, strong content knowledge isn’t necessarily enough to be a good teacher. “You can have a very, very brilliant mathematician who cannot just automatically communicate that information to a class of 40 13-year-olds,” she said.
With teacher shortages growing, officials in other states have also looked for wary to hire people outside of the traditional teaching pool. In Wisconsin, a controversial proposal from the state legislature would have allowed districts to hire and license anybody with a bachelor’s degree (and for certain subjects, the individual might not even have needed a bachelor’s, just “relevant experience”). The proposal was watered down significantly, but Wisconsin professionals can now teach a trade or technical education in public schools, if they receive some training in pedagogy and are supported by a school district.
In Alabama, the state Board of Education recently adopted a resolution to allow school districts to hire part-time adjunct instructors for vocational and technical courses, even if the instructors don’t have a teaching certification. The instructors can only work half-time or less (and not in elementary schools), must pass a background check, and will work with a certified mentor teacher. The Alabama Education Association opposes the policy on the grounds that it could hurt professional teachers and students, but state education officials said this is a way to address a shortage of teachers in areas like high school math and science and vocational courses like plumbing.
“We’re struggling,” a Board of Education member told AL.com. “It’s not ideal, but we just have to get teachers into the classroom.”
It remains to be seen how Utah school districts will recruit STEM professionals who often have higher-paying options. On average, Utah public school teachers earn an average of $46,689. As one commenter on the Deseret News story said, “If I were to quit my industry job and teach as the article suggests I can, my salary would be cut in more than half. So...I am not sure this will help much.”
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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.