CLEARFIELD, UT — A handful of Utah colleges and the Davis School District are teaming up together to make sure Utah always has enough teachers. Two elementary schools in the district also serve as teacher academies. Soon-to-be educators get a year full of hands-on experience while working under as master teacher as a teaching assistant. It benefits those in the program as well as the elementary students in the classrooms. “Go have fun,” Maria Flores told her students as they headed out to recess. “Go have fun.”  

Flores is a first-grade teacher at South Clearfield Elementary School. She is also a first-generation American. 

“I was born in California,” Flores said. “I moved here to Utah when I was in second grade, and I was really behind.” Flores told ABC4 that her teachers in the Davis School District never made her feel like she was behind even though she was.  

“They went above and beyond to help me, and I want to do that,” Flores stated. “And I am a Spanish speaker, so I wanted to help that community as well.”  

Flores put herself through college. As a practicum student she participated in the teacher academy that is built into South Clearfield Elementary School. She is now in her second year as a full-time teacher. She told ABC4 that she plans on remaining with the district for her entire career, that her nieces and nephews are now students in the district, and that she hopes all her family will send their kids to school within the district.  

“We believe in the idea that a strong start retains teachers,” Allison Riddle stated. Riddle is the elementary mentor coordinator for the district.  

“University practicum students have a chance to apply their learning from course work to the situations they see in classrooms,” she said.  

Think of it as student teaching but magnified. University students are hired as teaching assistants and work under a master teacher who is trained to be a mentor. This helps the university students get real-world experience of what it takes to be a teacher from the time the master teacher sets up his or her classroom for the year to the time the students have left and are moving on to the next grade.   

“You can’t just show up and your lesson plans are done, and your behavior is done,” Flores stated. “No. You have to see that background, and these (university) students and I got to see it.”  

“Most students going into education don’t get to see that until their first year of teaching, so it helps us be able to know how we’re going to do that before we have to start our job,” said Julia Winkel.   

Winkel along with Jayliyah Weir and Julia Wunder are all currently going through the academy as practicum students from Utah State University.  

“I want to be a teacher for many reasons. One being representation. That’s a huge factor. Two, I’ve always loved working with kids and, like, seeing their development and helping them grow,” stated Weir. “Three, I didn’t have very many good teachers in my elementary school, so I want to be part of the change,”  

“My sixth-grade teacher really opened the door by being that advocate for me being able to teach the way I needed to learn,” Wunder said. “From that moment on I knew I wanted to become a teacher. I wanted to be the difference for those kids that did struggle and did hate school.”  

According to Riddle (and Weber State University which also sends students to the academy), many of the practicum students are native Utahns, many are nontraditional students who are in the middle of a career change, and those who finish the program often stay in Utah long-term and have lower turnover rates than other educators. While it is beneficial to them, it’s also beneficial to the students who get to learn in one of the classrooms with a master teacher and practicum student.  

“For me, it’s absolutely amazing because they’re incredible teachers and their heart’s where it needs to be,” Robby Kinghorn told ABC4. Kinghorn is the principal at South Clearfield and said he loves having the academy at his school and loves the teachers the academy helps produce. “They’re serving where they want to be, and then in the classroom they’re fabulous with the kids.”  

Riddle added: “Because those master teachers have university practicum students in their classrooms, we have more invested hands in every classroom. And so, with more people helping, kids learn more.”