Utah aims to get former teachers back in the classroom

Utah aims to get former teachers back in the classroom

(Utah) State and education officials announced a new collaborative effort to address Utah’s teacher shortage by re-engaging former teachers who may be interested in returning to the classroom.

Gov. Gary Herbert, State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Sydnee Dickson, and Envision Utah CEO, Robert Grow, publically asked the approximately 30,000 people who have teaching credentials but aren’t working in a classroom to complete a questionnaire at returntoteaching.org.

Herbert said doing so would help to gauge their interest in rejoining the teaching ranks, and help officials determine what it would take to get them to return to Utah public schools.

“To those of you who left the profession, I invite you to return," Dickson said at a press conference earlier this month. “Whether you're a former teacher who left for any reason, if you once thought about being a teacher or you're a current teacher, our students need and deserve you, each student needs and deserves you. We all need you.”

Many states have grappled with teacher shortages since the recession, when many would-be teachers opted to pursue higher-paying, more stable careers, and educators who had been laid off chose not to return to the classroom. Some subjects, including science and special education, have proven especially difficult to fill.

In an effort to improve teacher retention or increase recruitment in educator preparation programs, lawmakers and individual districts have worked to offer new incentives to teachers, including higher pay, bonuses, loan forgiveness programs or housing assistance. Others have sought to ease the requirements to become a teacher, or have developed coaching or mentorship programs for new teachers.

State education data shows that about 12 percent of Utah teachers leave the profession each year, and 42 percent of new teachers quit within the first five years. At the same time, enrollment in teaching programs at state colleges and universities has declined.

Utah State Superintendent Dickinson said the survey will help education officials determine which credentialed professionals have a desire to return to the classroom, what is hindering them from doing so, and how the state might help mitigate those issues. The results can also be used to connect them with teaching positions that match their skills and interests.

The state's Return to Licensure pathway allows former Utah teachers to re-enter the teaching system without taking additional courses, according to Dickinson.

Herbert noted that Utah voters will have an opportunity to approve a ballot measure in November that would allow the Legislature to adopt a 10-cent-per-gallon hike in the state gas tax. The revenue would be made available for spending on public education–which would potentially be used to increase teacher salaries.

Utah teacher salaries are the 6th lowest in the nation, while student-to-teacher ratio is the 3rd highest, according to supporters of the ballot initiative.

Herbert, who has also urged in support for the Our Schools Now ballot measure, has said the funds could add a significant bump in education spending to be used for recruitment and retention purposes.

"We need to recruit and retain the best and the brightest of society to be those that impact the rising generations and the outcomes of tomorrow,” Herbert said. “That's teachers.”

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