Individuals can make a difference. And when those individuals are teachers, their opportunity to make a difference is multiplied, Utah Education Association President Jim Campbell told his peers Thursday.
Campbell opened the annual UEA convention in the Salt Palace with an address that wavered between pessimism and hope for the future. He borrowed extensively from a Deseret News series on teacher morale that ran in late August.The series was, in turn, based on a teacher survey that showed morale at a low ebb and many teachers expressing a desire to leave the profession, given the opportunity.
The annual meeting opened with a major disappointment as the intended keynote speaker, Ernest L. Boyer, was not able to come to Utah because of illness. Boyer is president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Education, which conducted the initial survey showing morale among Utah's teachers was at the bottom of the list compared with peers throughout the nation.
Campbell dwelled on large class sizes as a major concern for Utah teachers. "I'm concerned today because last year, half of our districts averaged more than 24 students in their classrooms," he said. "The problem with averaging is that it is an average. That means some classes are larger and a few are smaller. The important thing to remember is that the number of larger classes is growing."
Public criticism of education is another contributor to low teacher morale, Campbell said. "The problem is, here in Utah we don't really value education. I know all too well that we do make a sizable investment in educating our children in this state. But I'm also mindful that we have a large number of children we are trying to educate."
Tax initiatives on the November ballot are "a slap in the face of educators who give of their lives freely to provide a quality education for students," he said. He urged continued teacher support for defeat of the measures. Teachers themselves have turned around, he said, citing early statistics that showed heavy teacher support for the tax initiatives. A letdown in the effort now could be damaging, he said.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ted Wilson, who has been endorsed by the UEA, also addressed the convention - to the disgruntlement of other political candidates. (See related story on this page.)
Wilson capitalized on his own teaching background to establish rapport with the teachers and said if he is elected, education - including Utah's comparatively low teacher salaries - will be a high priority for state government.
Wilson also soundly knocked the tax revolt movement, calling defeat of the three tax initiatives "Utah's first challenge.
"Don't let your efforts slide. Don't relax in the final three weeks of the campaign," he warned."
The effectiveness of the state's education is the "most marvelous miracle in Utah," Wilson said. He predicted a shift in Utah's economy in the future, with more emphasis on human resources. The state will need a quality workforce to participate in new types of industry, he said.
Thousands of teachers are attending the UEA sessions in the Salt Palace, milling through exhibits and sharing on a personal basis their classroom experiences, joys and frustrations.
Specialty sessions will be held on Friday.