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SALT LAKE CITY — After returning to Utah from Washington state and taking a job leading Provo schools, Keith Rittel noticed a problem.
His new teachers stayed in the district for only a few years, leaving once their spouses graduated from Brigham Young or Utah Valley universities.
So the superintendent borrowed an idea from Washington schools. He is sowing another crop of teachers in his own high school classrooms through his "careers in education" technical courses for aspiring educators.
"I stole this lock, stock and barrel from another state," he told about three dozen people at a Wednesday forum on possible solutions to Utah's teacher shortage Wednesday night. The conservative Sutherland Institute hosted the panel discussion at a library in Salt Lake City's Avenues neighborhood.
The majority — 56 percent — of Utah public school teachers who started in 2008 left the profession by 2015, according to an analysis by the Utah Education Policy Center at the University of Utah.
The gap forced districts into "salary wars" this year, hiking teacher pay before the first day of school in order to attract and retain instructors for the state's roughly 650,000 schoolchildren.
But the program Rittel envisions as an opportunity for its more advanced students to earn college credit hasn't caught on in Utah just yet.
"I’m only getting a few inquiries with other districts," he said.
Rittel joined three other educators and the head of a teaching certification company to share ideas for slowing the drain of new teachers from Utah schools.
In addition to growing teachers at a young age, it's important to link them with mentors when they get to the classroom, give them leadership opportunities early in their careers and provide affordable ways for non-teachers to transition to the field, panelists said.
Logan Hall, who runs a teacher "peer assistance review" program at Salt Lake City School District, said his system pairing new instructors with seasoned mentors has helped retain about three-quarters of new teachers and given them the equivalent of five years of job training in their first year.
"Having the consulting teacher to hold their hand, show up with a box of tissues when times are tough and show them real-life strategies," he said, drives their odds of success.
The close mentoring also helps them identify early on whether teaching is the right fit, he said, though "it’s not a massive flood of teachers leaving."
A grant paid for the program initially, and the school district found money to keep it going, said Hall, who did not mention the price tag.
In inner-city Nashville, Tennessee, Michelle McVicker's elementary school has come to understand that millennials — those born in the 1980s to early 2000s — often switch careers five years in, she told the panel.
With that in mind, McVicker and her staff came up with an incentive program that gives manager roles to teachers deemed high-performing. The "multi-classroom leaders" receive an extra stipend for each of the three to six teachers they coach, she said.
McVicker's approach includes a year-long internship program for new teachers. She says its creates a pipeline to fill spots by those who leave due to burnout or other reasons.
Panelists acknowledged that Utah and other states grappling with shortages have a host of issues to address.
Many refrain from teaching these days because professional development erodes instructors' summers and their benefits aren't as good, Rittel said.
It's more difficult to be a teacher now than it was 20 years ago.
And they are the target of "public shaming" when test scores aren't good, McVicker noted.
"It's more difficult to be a teacher now than it was 20 years ago,” added Hall, who said many students in his district's elementary schools haven't learned English yet.
And pay is key, though it's not the only important piece, the panelists said.
Christine Nesheiwat, a Woods Cross Elementary teacher who attended the discussion, agreed.
"I’m a six-year teacher, and the only reason I’m making slightly over $40,000 is I had no summer," she said. She spent her months off doing coursework to up her certification and returned to her classroom several days early, and mostly without pay, to prepare lessons and decorate for the school year.
McVicker said her strategy in Nashville was different.
"If you show up," she said, "you get paid."