WEBER COUNTY, Utah (ABC4) – Parents may be counting down until the kids head back to school, but after two years of a pandemic, Utah schools continue to feel the strain on their teachers and staff. In many cases, this strain presents itself in the form of a staffing shortage.
Rand Corporation surveyed principals and teachers across the United States to learn more about their stress and fatigue levels. The study finds that nearly one in three is considering leaving their career for something else by the end of this coming school year. This is up from nearly one in four who were considering it a year before, and one in six who were considering the change before the pandemic hit.
“It really kind of pushed me towards becoming an educator myself,” Lea Flinders told ABC4. Flinders is a mother of six and lives in northern Utah. Like many, Flinders dealt with the extra stress brought on by the pandemic. She worked and helped her children adapt to at-home learning. She was also adapting to online schooling herself. As she reflected on the impact her teachers had on her life, and the impact her children’s teachers have on their lives, she knew she wanted to become a licensed teacher.
“I was offered a scholarship here at Weber for paraeducators.” The Teacher Assistant Pathway to Teaching scholarship helps paraeducators, like Flinders, continue their education to become licensed teachers.
Envision Utah reports that part of Utah’s teacher shortage has to do with the lack of university students seeking teaching degrees. The TAPT scholarship is one of many programs across the state that aims to address this issue by helping non-traditional students become teachers in their communities.
According to the Utah state legislator’s annual audit on schools, 2021 was a rough year for schools across the state. The Dagget School District was hit especially hard. During the school year, the district faced a teacher shortage of 33 percent.
Districts across the state faced similar problems (no district faced a shortage higher than Dagget’s) and had to be creative to meet the needs of their students.
In Washington, Cache, Weber, Davis, Jordan and Tooele school districts (to name a few), substitutes, administrators and even parents helped fill the vacancies for extended periods of time.
It’s a problem that can’t be solved overnight, but programs like the TAPT scholarship aim to alleviate some of the burden.
“Officially, four years ago I started going back to school,” Flinders stated. Next month, the mother of six will return to the classroom but this time, she’ll be the teacher.
“It’s been good for my kids to see that it’s something so important to me that I want to go back to school, and I want to teach, and I want to make a difference,” she added. “It’s helped them understand the importance of education. They’ve been my little cheerleaders in the background; celebrating successes with me.”
Flinders will be a 4th grade teacher at Golden Spike Elementary School in Brigham City. She’s excited for her first year as a teacher.
Envision Utah reports the state has been facing a teacher shortage for more than a decade. They’ve developed eight strategies to help retain teachers. One of those strategies involves increasing the average starting pay to $60,000 and then increasing that pay to $110,000 by the time a teacher retires.