VOL.10 NO. 4 SPRING 2001
Teaching a K- 12 class has never been more challenging.
Just ask the teacher of teachers—
The image of striking teachers holding rallies, walking neighborhoods, and waving signs at the statewide walkout on December 5, 2000, perhaps said it all: the challenges facing Utah’s K-12 schools are growing almost as fast as the number of students.
With low teacher salaries, large class sizes, and many state licensure requirements, it’s not surprising that teachers are in short supply. But expanding diversity and the increasingly information-oriented economy make good teachers more vital than ever.
According to an informal survey conducted by the Utah State Office of Education last fall, 22 of 31 responding districts said they experienced a shortage of licensed and endorsed teachers at the beginning of the school year. Two hundred and eleven classes statewide began the 2000-01 academic year without an assigned teacher, while 24 districts reported experiencing more difficulty hiring new teachers for this year than in the past three years. At the U, no one recognizes those dilemmas better than David J. Sperry BA’67 MS’70 PhD’70, dean of the College of Education, who believes his college must meet “the rising external and internal demands converging upon it.” In that spirit, the name of the college that teaches teachers was changed from the Graduate School of Education to the College of Education, and was reorganized in order to better prepare potential teachers to meet the needs of contemporary classrooms.
Administrators divided what was the education studies department into two separate departments. The Department of Teaching and Learning prepares pre-service and in-service K-12 classroom teachers through degree and licensure programs. The Department of Education, Culture, and Society offers only graduate degrees that prepare teachers for academic careers in the social and cultural foundations of education, and provides service courses that emphasize diversity and multicultural education.
State officials estimate that the school-age population will grow by 24 percent in 10 years, from 484,305 to 598,775 students. And according to census figures, about 30 percent of the new students will be minorities.
With a huge increase in linguistic diversity, cultural differences, and various disabilities in Utah schools, teachers are faced with complexities that often do not align with their backgrounds and experiences. That is why Burbank believes that teacher education must include both theoretical and practical teaching methods.
“We don’t see theory-based and experience-based teaching at opposite ends of the continuum,” she says. “There’s a lot of crossover, because students don’t fit into neat categories.”
The National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) establishes national standards for education preparation programs and disciplinary subgroups, which Utah has adopted. The State Office of Education approves all educational programs based upon their adhering to or surpassing these standards.
About a year ago, the federal government also enacted Title II of the Higher Education Act, which requires all states and teacher-preparation institutions to report the pass rates of teacher-education graduates on a standardized test. Pass rates of different states and institutions will be required to appear on promotional materials and relevant institutional documents. Utah will start this testing of graduates in January 2003. All teacher-education graduates in Utah will have to pass the test to be recommended for a Level 2 license (required of all teachers after expiration of their initial, three-year, Level 1 license).
“We’re in an age of accountability,” says Diana Pounder, who has been a professor in the Department of Educational Leadership for 11 years and became associate dean of the College of Education in fall 1999. “Teachers are accountable to students, to the public at large, to the state, and to national professional organizations. We have to provide a lot of documentation to prove that we’re doing what we ought to be doing.”
Pounder says that a big part of accountability in Utah schools today is recognizing and dealing successfully with increasing diversity. “In Salt Lake City schools there is a large population of racial minorities—about 40 percent. And the numbers are becoming similar in other urban counties,” she notes. “Because most of the teachers we educate stay and work in Utah, these are the classroom situations they are going to face, where any number of students may speak English as a second language or have different racial, cultural, economic, or learning backgrounds.”
John Bennion BS’61 MA’62, director of the Utah Urban School Alliance and a former clinical professor of urban education, says one part of successfully teaching an increasingly diverse student body is narrowing the achievement gap between high-income and low-income schools.
“There are 47 low-income schools along the Wasatch Front. It’s like a tale of two cities when you look at the benches and the inner cities. There are different worlds existing within three miles,” Bennion says. “We are really getting to the point in some of our inner-city neighborhoods where you might as well be in Philadelphia, Los Angeles, or Chicago. One of the biggest challenges is to better prepare new teachers and principals for urban societies, where many will end up teaching right off the bat.”
Bennion has been combing the country for effective programs that teach students with diverse backgrounds to read and write, even if they come from home environments that are not supportive. “We need good teachers and good teaching, particularly where the challenges are the greatest,” he says. And despite his hopes for the College of Education’s new organization and goals, he adds, “I don’t think any teacher-education institution in the state has caught up with the reality of inner-city schools.”
Disabilities must be included in the definition of diversity as well. As Maggie Mulder, a master’s student at the U who currently teaches special education at Parkview Elementary, notes, “We need to broaden our idea of diversity from just racial and ethnic differences to disabilities and special needs, as well. Regular education teachers will need to learn special-education skills because they are going to need strategies to deal with various students as we move toward including them in the mainstream.”
Mulder says that the skills she has learned at the U have been vital to her career, even though she worked previously with disabled people in a group home. “I use the stuff they teach me all the time,” she says. “The U has pointed me in the direction of research that has been helpful, in finding strategies that work, in learning tested skills. With my [special education] students, I’ve found that you can’t just keep trying new things on them because they start to feel like guinea pigs. The U has provided me with a lot of strategies that work in my classroom.”
Currently, Utah State University’s and Brigham Young University’s education programs graduate proportionately more students than the U. Pounder says that although the U expects its numbers to increase, the quality of its graduates is more important than the quantity.
Last year the U graduated about 12 students in early childhood education, 60 in elementary education, and 100 in secondary education. Pounder predicts that those numbers will increase, due in part to greater visibility of the U’s program and its new departmental organization. She says the U could graduate as many as 100 students in elementary education in the next few years.
“The biggest challenge we’re facing is faculty shortage, especially in science education and math education,” Pounder says. “It’s reflective of the shortage that public schools are facing in these same areas.”
Burbank agrees, adding, “Those interested in math and science are drawn into more lucrative professions or recruited by districts in other states.”
Instead of watering down teacher preparation, we should focus on financial incentives, Pounder says. Lawyers and doctors have to fulfill many educational requirements, but their economic reward is much greater in the end.
“Our average graduate spends five years in school, has to take numerous qualifying exams, fulfill state requirements, and comes out making $22,000 a year,” says Frank Margonis, chair of the new Department of Education, Culture, and Society. “There is increasing pressure on students, and there’s not a great reward. Once they do get through the program, half who are trained to be teachers never teach,” he adds. “Teaching in a high school for a year gives you a greater understanding of that. Working conditions are really hard.”
For example, when a teacher teaches 200 students a day, assigning an essay means about 40 hours of grading time. Unfortunately, there is not enough incentive for that kind of work, Margonis says. “Politicians don’t look at class size because it’s an expensive thing. But we’ll continue to see teacher shortages until teacher salaries are brought up to competitive levels and class sizes are brought down.”
With a continued teacher shortage looming, Bennion agrees that it is more important than ever to retain teachers. “We’d lose a lot fewer teachers if we had a better induction system, so to speak,” he says. “We need a systematic support system for brand-new teachers in their first couple of years. Just like doctors aren’t expected to go out on their own without a residency, coaching, and training, new teachers need systematic support, as well. For me, that’s ideally a joint responsibility between the teaching institution and the schools themselves.”
The U is in the process of creating an induction program for new teachers and offers ongoing professional support to teachers in the field. The College of Education currently offers master’s degrees through cooperative cohorts of about 25-30 in-service teachers who move through the program together. It provides evening courses for working professionals and is also increasing the number of summer courses offered.
“Teacher isolation is a big reason teachers leave the field,” Burbank says, “so if we can increase collaboration and support among in-service teachers, they’ll be more likely to stay.”
“I think the best way to deal with the diversity challenge is to have teachers in the classroom who understand the students,” Margonis says. “We’re graduating way too few Latino students, for example. Our strategy is to recruit strong faculty of color. If we have a heavy concentration of faculty of color, that improves our chances of recruiting students of color.
“Integration is our biggest goal,” Margonis adds. “We should be serving all the populations of the state, and we’re not right now. It’s a large social problem, not just at the U.”
Still, for every challenge the U’s educators face, there is a story of success from responsive programs such as the School Counseling Program, the reinstated undergraduate special-education degree, and expanded teacher licensure course options (for those who hold an undergraduate degree and wish to become licensed teachers). As Burbank points out, “We have a lot of supportive people in the community and here at the University who really care about teacher education.”
Hall Monitors (sidebar)
—Anne-Marie Wright, whose article on e-commerce appeared in the Winter 2000 Continuum, is a freelance writer in Salt Lake City.
Copyright 2001 by The University of Utah Alumni Association