SALT LAKE CITY — Proposed changes to the state teacher licensure rule will exacerbate Utah's teacher shortage and contribute to inequity among students, educators told members of the Utah State Board of Education Thursday.
Others warned the proposed changes will "degrade" the teaching profession.
A dozen educators addressed the board during a public hearing on the proposed rule, most opposing language on associate-level teaching licenses. They could be granted to applicants with bachelor's degrees in any field who pass a background check and a test on content area.
They would also need to complete four professional learning modules created or approved by a district superintendent in the areas of educator ethics; classroom management and instruction; basic special education law and instruction; and the Utah Effective Teaching Standards.
Sarah Machol, a teacher, mother of two young daughters and a "concerned citizen," said she has a unique perspective working as an elementary educator for a decade and a mentor to novice teachers and college students in teacher education programs.
"Decreasing the requirements to teach in Utah schools will only harm our students and the teaching profession as a whole," said Machol.
Under the current system, novice teachers are often given "the most difficult classes in the most at-risk schools," she said.
A teacher who has taken an alternative route to licensure would "meet an even greater challenge as they lack basic teacher training and pedagogy and the experiences of a student teacher practicum with a master teacher," she said.
Machol added, "In my opinion, this exacerbates the teacher shortage by increasing the likelihood they will leave the profession after a few years."
Moreover, the proposed State School Board rule "degrades the profession and it is our children who will pay the price," she said.
Vicki Olsen, who teaches business classes at Riverton High School and is president of the Jordan Education Association, said she has been an educator for 28 years.
She has seen numerous teachers enter the classroom after working in business without the benefit of teacher training.
"First of all, they don't last very long. They find it difficult to teach. They have a wealth of knowledge but they find it very difficult to give it to students," she said.
When teachers are ineffective, "word soon spreads" among high school students, who warn "Don't take a class from so-and-so. You'll hate it," she said.
But more worrisome, once enrollment drops in elective classes, sections of classes are cut.
Olsen said she believes anyone who wants to be a teacher should spend a week in a classroom and carefully consider "Do I really want to do this?"
But others said the proposed rule gives sufficient latitude to school districts and charter schools when they need it.
Cindy Phillips, executive director of the Weilenmann School of Discovery, a public charter school in Park City that serves students in grades K-8, said the proposed rule "provides greater ease from out-of-state to in-state state licensing process. We've never had that in rule before. This is wonderful because then we can leverage licensed teachers from other states into our state."
All things considered, educators would prefer to hire traditionally trained teachers but "that is not something that is available," she said.
Last year, Weilenmann School hired two teachers from other fields, one a psychologist and the other a graphic designer.
"They were both outstanding first-year teachers," she said.
Phillips said she hopes the state school board will make a greater commitment to increasing numbers of university trained teachers over the next decade.
Testimony from the public hearing, written comments and other background information will be compiled in a report to the Utah State Board of Education next month when the board can make amendments to the rule or allow it to stand as proposed.