Ignobility of the Masses

By Sam Knuth

Along with nursing and (ahem) journalism, teaching is considered one of the noble professions. Years of intensive study that lead to long days of thankless, emotionally draining work and little pay. That pay is supposed to be made up for with the sense of satisfaction that comes from uplifting and progressing society by improving lives, training the next generation to be free thinkers, and speaking truth to power. The Utah State Board of Education has decided that one of the components that makes the profession of teaching noble is no longer required: the training.

On Friday, June 8, 2016, the Utah State Board of Education passed a new regulation regarding the requirements to become a teacher. This resolution establishes a new program called Alternative Pathways to Teaching (APT) to help address the teacher shortage. It is being billed as an attempt to remove the barriers between content experts and the field of education in order to address massive teacher shortage in the state. It allows for individuals with a subject-specific bachelor’s degree, such as computer science or history, to forgo getting education-specific schooling and jump right into the classroom. To make up for the lack of training at the collegiate level, the program assigns these new APT teachers a mentor for the duration of three-year training program.

A typical collegiate education program will have two main components: area content knowledge and pedagogy. A prospective teacher is expected not just to know the subject that they would like to teach, but to also be fluent in the best ways to transfer that knowledge to students. The education program will then typically involve an unpaid internship where they are put in charge of a classroom. This period of student teaching is meant to give students an opportunity to implement what they have learned in the classroom, hone their skills, and evaluate how they feel about getting into the profession.

As there is not an equal distribution of the teacher shortage across all subjects, this regulation is aimed at getting specific experts in the classroom. Utah is especially focused on recruiting STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) teachers.

Some, however, feel as though this regulation does not adequately address the root causes of the teacher shortage.

Jason Healy is a 30-year-old software engineer who earned his bachelor’s in Physics education at Utah Valley University, but did not purse teaching. While he is still passionate about education in his community, his starting salary as a software engineer is double that of a teacher. When asked about solving the teacher shortage, he said it comes down to money. “This is literally a problem that would be improved by throwing money at it.”

Healy’s opinions reflect a pessimistic view of the new regulation. As the turnover rate is already really high among people who have exposure to the thankless field of education, he explains, adding STEM professionals who could be making much more money in the private sector will only worsen the problem. He continues by explaining that by opening education to the larger market, conditions will worsen for teachers now having to compete for their jobs, and by extension Utah’s education system will only go downhill.

There are some who have a more optimistic outlook on the regulation. Chris Atkin, a 25-year-old English, teacher does not feel as though this new regulation will have much an effect. Atkin feels as though the system will still favor anyone with a teaching degree and have done their student teacher. Furthermore, Atkin said that the people who will go into education thanks to this regulation are people who would have gone into education anyways.

Both Atkin and Healy advise people considering going into education to be cautious and consider it carefully. Both seem to share the viewpoint that at the end of the day, it is going to be passion that gets a teacher through the arduous days.

The results of this new school board initiative remain to be seen. The new rules go into effect Aug. 7 for the 2016-2017 school year. This change was meant to address the fact that most teachers leave the field of education in their first five years. Hopefully we won’t have to wait that long to see if the change addresses the root of the problem.