Is there still a teacher shortage in Utah?

Aug 7, 2023, 11:00 AM | Updated: Aug 8, 2023, 11:08 am

Image of elementary students at a shared desk....

The teacher shortage isn't as pronounced in 2023, but one official said positions are still available. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

(Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — With the school year just weeks away, some parents are wondering if there is still a teacher shortage.

“We have noticed a decline in the number of open positions for teachers and educators this year,” said Renee Pinkney, president of the Utah Education Association. “But we still have jobs that are going unfilled.”

Last year, Pinkney was told by educators that specific positions for special ed or other teachers went unfilled for the entire year.

“The number of job openings and the number of teachers who are applying for those jobs is starting to narrow, but we still are seeing a teacher shortage.”

It’s helpful to note that we are making progress.

“We have some data across the country that we’ll get back to pre-Covid levels in 2023-2024,” Pinkney explained. “But that is still recognizing that there was a teacher shortage going into the pandemic.”

Teacher shortage and post-pandemic burnout

Teachers have always been under a lot of stress, but that stress has been worse in recent years.

Pinkney said that stress comes from a number of different places, but two of the key triggers are expectations placed on teachers regarding standardized testing and changes in students’ behaviors.

“Some of the behaviors that teachers and counselors are seeing are just… they’re different, and they’re more extreme,” said Pinkney. “And that creates a lot of stress for teachers trying to teach their lessons and manage these behaviors.”

Are these behaviors the new normal?

“I certainly hope we get back to where teachers are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve,” Pinkney said. “What we saw during the pandemic where parents and other community members were treating, not only our teachers, but school board members and other politicians so disrespectfully.

Pinkney said that lack of consideration shown by the adults affected students’ behaviors in a real way.

Losing more new teachers

In Utah, teacher turnover is one of the lowest in the country. But turnover with new teachers is another story. In that category, we are above the national average.

“Within the first five years, 45 to 50% of our educators are leaving the profession,” Pinkney explained.

Half of the new teachers are leaving. Why?

“I believe that a majority of those educators did not go through the traditional college and university education programs,” Pinkney offered. “They were coming into the profession with a bachelor’s degree in their field, whether it’s mathematics or English or history, and then they went through a different pathway to licensure.”

What that different pathway to licensure skips is learning how to teach. Some of these new teachers are proficient in their subject matter, but they don’t have the skills they need to teach.

That proves to be a real challenge for new teachers and for the experienced teachers at the schools where they work.

“The teachers who are mentoring them, the veteran teachers are often trying to help them through the process,” Pinkney said. “That puts a lot of additional stress, but that’s what we do.”

Pinkney shared a personal story about her oldest son who has two degrees and told her.

“There is no way I can walk into a classroom just with my degree and be able to teach. I need to go through a teacher education program.”

That was the pathway Pinkney took to becoming a teacher, and she felt very prepared.

“When you walk into your classroom for the first time, you are learning on the job regardless of if you’ve gone through a teacher ed program, but that teacher ed program really gives you some skills that you don’t have if you don’t go through it.”

Teacher morale and the teacher shortage

How is morale among Utah’s teachers as they head back into the classroom?

“Teachers are resilient,” Pinkney said. “They are lifelong learners. They are reflective practitioners, and they are excited to get back into their classrooms. Always with optimism and high hopes that this year will be better than last.”

Every year at the beginning of the year, she sees a whole lot of excitement and optimism in teachers who are looking forward to meeting their students and having a great year.

What can we do to help?

Parents and teachers have a natural partnership in ensuring students succeed.

“Engaging with your child’s teacher or teachers at the very beginning of the year and creating that partnership where you’re working together is key,” Pinkney explained.

Communication is key to having parents know that they are supported and teachers know that they are supported.

“Student success is at the heart of everything we do,” Pinkney emphasized. “Our goal is to preserve the promise of public education and make sure our kids can live their happiest and best life.”

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Send it to the KSL NewsRadio team here.

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Is there still a teacher shortage in Utah?