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First year is key for Utah's teachers, district says

First year is key for Utah's teachers, district says

By Mary Richards | Posted - Oct. 18, 2012 at 5:40 a.m.



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SALT LAKE CITY - As thousands of teachers from across Utah gather Thursday for the first day of UEA convention, one topic is bound to come up - how to keep teachers from leaving the classroom.

Teacher turnover is becoming a problem across the nation, with Utah no different.

Standing in front of 30 children for the first time can be daunting. Even with a teaching degree and student teaching experience, handling a classroom by yourself is a huge transition. And so, some teachers quit.

"We know that transition is huge. They need that support to make that step," said Jason Olsen with the Salt Lake School District.

Olsen says that's why the district has the Star Initiative. Each new teacher is paired with a mentor, a veteran teacher in the same school, preferably with the same grade or subject.

"That first year of teaching is very key," Olsen said.

He says in the 2007-2008 school year, the district hired 150 teachers. Nineteen percent left after one year. Some may have transferred and not left teaching all together, but one study showed between 40 to 50 percent of those entering the profession now, leave within five years.

Salt Lake School District
2007-08: 150 teachers hired. Five years later:
  • 60 (40%) no longer working in the district
  • 29 (19%) left after 1st year
  • 11 (7%) left after 2nd year
  • 8 (5%) left after 3rd year
  • 7 (5%) left after 4th year
  • 5 (3%) left after 5th year

The president of the Utah Education Association, Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh, says some things have to change in order to keep teachers in the classroom.

"They need the resources, the training, the support," she said.

She says professional development days are gone -- true professional development where teachers can hone their craft and learn best practices. Instead, Gallagher-Fishbaugh says teachers' time is now taken up with more testing, more evaluations, and more lesson-planning to meet the new Common Core standards.

"Our teachers are absolutely overwhelmed," she said.

She says they need better training in college. And many teachers leave because they can make more money elsewhere. The UEA talks of teachers who left the profession in the Uintah area because they could make more money working for the oil companies. Others in math and science earn more money in those fields instead of in front of a classroom.

Age-based analysis (Click for larger view)
Age-based analysis (Click for larger view)

"We need a salary that is commensurate with professions that are similar to teaching," Gallagher-Fishbaugh said.

It's adding up. One study found it costs a district $1,500 or more when a teacher leaves, in recruiting, hiring, and training. It can be up to $17,000 per teacher-leaver in a larger district.

But perhaps the biggest issue for teachers is morale. Gallagher-Fishbaugh says it's time to stop blaming teachers and give them more respect and help.

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Mary Richards

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