If private employers treated their employees like Utah lawmakers treat their teachers, they would be out of business and cited for violating labor laws.
Yet, we see legislators continue to blame teachers for our failing schools. They keep trying to pass laws on how to fire poor performing teachers, demand more accountability, add more needless regulations and even try to dismantle education with a thousand cuts. Such actions only serve to intimidate, demean and create a hostile work environment. Then they wonder why teachers are leaving the profession they chose because they believed they could make a difference in motivating children to love learning.
Apparently, lawmakers don't take the time to review past studies, like the 156-page "Utah Educator Supply and Demand Study" commissioned in 2005 by the Utah State Office of Education (USOE) and the State Board of Regents. That study was undertaken to determine what to do about meeting the demand for more teachers to educate the 49 percent student growth over the next 20 years.
It said state colleges of education should increase enrollment and place more of their own students in state school districts. And that the USOE needed to help educators who left to raise families return to the profession.
Education professionals and policymakers dismissed the most important finding: that 40 percent of those who graduate from Utah teacher colleges never enter the profession and that another 40 percent leave the profession after five years. The state doesn't have a supply problem. People are leaving because of the untenable, stressful and oppressive working conditions in schools today.
As one teacher wrote, "A student teacher from our school quit last year at Christmas (after having no support from administration) ... we had an opening this year we phoned to see if she wouldn't try again at our school. The reply, 'Thank you, I have a job now with great opportunities to grow and a great working environment.'" Others have said they would discourage family members from going into teaching.
Lawmakers should take the time to listen to the frontline teachers instead of administrators and labor leaders who have a vested interest in keeping the status quo rather than advocating for children. Successful businesses know their greatest investment is their skilled employees and the need to create an environment where they feel valued, supported and rewarded; turnover of trained employees is a human and financial loss.
Professional education administrators give policymakers solutions to do more of the same — more money, more teacher training, mentoring, smaller classes, more testing and accountability. What is needed is for lawmakers to realize what business people do: invest in their people and help them succeed. If the company isn't productive, they do a self-evaluation, rather than firing employees at the bottom of the organization.
Lawmakers should do the same. Intimidating and threatening teachers is counterproductive and a waste of tax dollars. They should look at education as though it's their own money that's on the line. Matter of fact, they have a higher standard to meet — their stewardship of the public's institutions. Before they fire poor performing teachers, legislators should articulate what constitutes good performance: what is the product they are supposed to deliver? Is it process, or whether a student goes on to higher education or gets a living wage job?
Lawmakers should create a work environment where teachers can come ready to motivate students to learn. Education starts with one teacher who feels valued, supported and eager to come to work with the "fire (that) burns in my teacher heart," as one teacher said. It's up to lawmakers to make that happen.
A Utah native, John Florez has been on the staff of Sen. Orrin Hatch, served as former Utah Industrial Commissioner and filled White House appointments, including Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor and Commission on Hispanic Education.