Teacher shortage causes costly turnover

In the state of Utah, many schools face the problem of being understaffed. Teachers are continually coming and going, and for some positions it can be hard to find a qualified teacher.

When school districts can’t find a teacher with a teaching degree, they often apply for a letter of authorization, which allows someone to teach without a teaching degree. The new teachers are then given three years to earn their degree.

According to a nonprofit research group in Utah, “Envision Utah,” one half of Utah’s new teachers do not have a teaching degree. While NS doesn’t face as abundant staffing problems, it can be hard to find quality teachers. Seven percent of the teachers at NSSD are working under a letter of authorization

“We have hired, over the last five years, 60 to 70 new teachers in our district,” said assistant superintendent Randy Shelley. “It is a huge turnover because we only have 135 to 140 teachers. That is over one-third of our teaching staff. Some of it is due to retirement, some is due to teachers moving, and some teachers we have asked to leave. I would like to say that we have fully licensed qualified teachers in our classroom, but the reality is that we just don’t.”

Layne Cook, a first-year business teacher at NS, was hired with a letter of authorization.

“I think where I don’t yet have my teaching degree, we are all learning together,” Cook said. “I don’t think it affects [students] negatively. Everything I teach I am comfortable teaching, and I’ve taken classes on it. I try to think and refine after every class. ‘What worked? What didn’t work? How did the students react?’”

Each teacher needs to decide what the best way is to run their classroom. The best way to do this is by working in the field.

“Some teachers have a natural ability to work with kids, and others need a little more coaching,” Shelley said. “We have had teachers that we have hired on a letter of authorization that have come in and aren’t very coachable and don’t take advice. Those teachers don’t last very long. We have had other teachers that are natural and do a great job. Once you get in the field, you learn what questions you need to ask and what you didn’t know. That is when you can make success.”

NSSD tries to help new teachers in the most efficient way possible. Ryan Syme was hired to be an instructional coach for beginning teachers.

“We provided a lot of coaching support for our teachers,” Shelley said. “We have instructional coaches that a lot of districts don’t have. We provide our new teachers with a lot of support. Our instructional coach Ryan Syme provides a second set of eyes for the teachers. He doesn’t just come in and tell them how to get better. He goes in and works with them to come up with solutions to get better.”

Syme meets with first year teachers about four to five times a week. He observes them and meets with them to discuss what went well, what didn’t, and what to improve. He also works with provisional teachers, which are teachers in their first three years.

“I am really proud of the school district for having my position,” Syme said. “It is a commitment to the teachers in their first three years. North Sanpete high school has made a financial commitment by hiring people like me in the schools to support teachers in their first three years. We are trying to get teachers to not fail. We are trying to get teachers to succeed rather than to fail. I feel like I am a support. I feel like for me personally when teachers within their first three years aren’t successful, I feel like that falls on to me as much as does onto them.”

Even though NS can’t afford to pay the highest salaries in Utah, they try to give their teachers benefits.

“We have increased the salaries for first-time teachers from $30,000 to $40,000, and more experienced teachers have competitive wages with other [experienced teachers] in the state,” Shelley said. “We provide $100 insurance premiums, and we have one of the best insurance policies in the state as far as what we cover and out of pocket expenses. Additionally, we give our employees an HSA contribution, which is a health savings account to offset the high deductible plan. We give our employees $1,600 into an HSA to use toward the deductible.”

According to “Envision Utah,” 12% of teachers quit every year. NS is trying to keep its teachers by giving them benefits and coaching them through the first three years.

“I’ve been impressed with how well (teachers at NS) instruct, and how they manage classrooms,” Syme said. “Some of these teachers have 40 kids in their class. The teachers work really hard to help all 40 of the kids to learn. The teachers at NS are great.”

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