SALT LAKE CITY – With Utah's high population of students and lower salaries for educators compared to other states, more teachers are leaving Utah after their first year. Education advocates say it could be because there’s not enough incentive for teachers to stay.
Nearly 2,500 new teachers joined Utah’s school districts in 2010. And, as of last year, more than 1,000 quit their jobs.
“For the first time this year, we had 500 vacancies,” said Ben Horsley, a Spokesman for the Granite School District. “That’s one-seventh of our teaching force that turned over, and we had 500 new teachers in Granite School District starting this last fall.”
Horsley said it could be because teachers in Utah don’t make as much money as teachers in other states.
“Teacher pay is part of that,” he said. “I think the stress of the job; it’s a very difficult job to manage upwards of 30 kids in a classroom. If you’re a secondary teacher, you’re going to be having upwards of 200-plus students to manage and grade.”
Mindi Layton, a teacher at Woodrow Wilson Elementary in Salt Lake City, said teachers also feel pressure to keep test scores up.
“There’s a lot of push lately on the data, and now this data and the testing push,” she said. “I think that’s one of the most stressful things that could be influencing the teacher shortages.”
And, she said there's not enough incentive when the average salary for a teacher in Utah is $36,000 a year.
“A lot of teachers feel that the pay is terrible,” Layton said. “We're 51st in the nation. We're the lowest in the nation. We're paid very poorly as teachers.”
Tom Nedreberg, vice president of the Utah Education Association, says he agrees teachers feel more pressure for students to perform well on tests and have little training when they start working in Utah's classrooms.
“We need mentors to work with teachers as they come into the classroom to let them know some of the realities of what it's going to be to be a teacher in the state,” he said.
Granite School District recently started offering new teachers bonuses to work in their classrooms.
“We were also able to negotiate a $500, one-time bonus for brand new teachers,” Horsley said. “And so if you’re coming out of college as a new teacher, you’re looking at one school district who’s offering essentially the same benefits and package, you might come to Granite School District because of that one-time signing bonus.”
Horsley said school districts could make their jobs more attractive to prospective teachers by offering bonuses or other benefits. But, ultimately, he says it's up to the Legislature to provide more funding for schools and teachers, which is not always easy in a state with a high student-to-teacher ratio, as is the case in Utah.