This is the eighth article in the series, “The State of Education in Utah Valley.” All stories can be found here.
The ideal candidate by far for most teaching jobs would have an education-specific degree from a college or university.
But when there aren’t enough of these traditionally-trained candidates to go around, districts must look outside of the education realm for teachers to hire.
Though the districts have been hiring teachers without education-specific degrees for many years, data from the Utah State Board of Education shows the percentage and number of teachers with a non-traditional license or training program in Utah County have increased over the last four years.
Utah’s ARL program, short for Alternative Routes to Licensure, allows individuals without an education background, especially those with a bachelor’s degree in another field, to train on the job and teach while pursuing a teaching license.
Kevin Cox, human resources administrator for Alpine School District, said the district only hires ARLs out of necessity.
“I would say if we had the choice, we would probably not want to hire any ARLs, but the reality of the situation is they do fill some gaps that are very helpful for us,” Cox said. “But we would rather go with traditionally trained teachers if we can.”
Hiring ARLs in Alpine School District mostly comes down to subject area, as positions to teach subjects like computer coding and auto mechanics tend to get few or sometimes no applicants.
“We find someone with the expertise that’s interested in doing it and we hire them on an ARL, so that we can provide the class for the students,” he said. “It’s more a shortage of highly specialized kinds of subjects for the most part.”
These subjects for Provo City School District include special education and mathematics, according to deputy superintendent Jason Cox.
“I would say we probably have hired more ARLs in those two areas than we would in any other capacity, and it’s because we’ve had people come forward showing interest and not enough candidates coming out of the university who are prepared,” Jason Cox said. “Across the country, we’re seeing not enough students in the college level enter into certain areas of emphasis, and this is one of them.”
That being said, the percentage of teachers with a non-traditional license or training program in Utah County is still relatively low — below 9 percent both collectively and in each district. Much of this has to do with the districts’ partnerships with nearby universities including Brigham Young University and Utah Valley University.
“The partnerships are really the secret,” Kevin Cox said. “It provides a pipeline that is pretty systematic, and so that’s really the value and why we haven’t seen the critical and drastic shortages that others have seen is because for years and years, decades, we’ve nourished these partnerships with our local universities, and it’s proven to be very, not only successful in terms of the numbers of teachers we see, but in ... the thorough preparation that they’ve received through BYU and UVU.”
Though ARL teachers are required to complete college teaching courses, take tests and work with mentors in order to become licensed, there are still some unique drawbacks, as well as benefits, that can come along with hiring a teacher without an education-specific degree.
Oftentimes, ARL teachers have less experience with things like classroom management than traditionally-trained teachers.
“The challenge is they’ve had no instructional training, no pedagogical training, and so to get in front of a class and actually teach is a foreign environment to them,” Kevin Cox said. “Instructionally, they usually need a lot of help and a lot of support.”
Jason Cox said this requires fellow teachers and administrators to step up and help ARLs understand how to be good teachers, as the Provo district’s expectations for teachers don’t change for ARLs in wanting the best for its students.
“We just want to then put that much more of an emphasis or resource into the actual mentoring and helping of the person to get to where they need to be,” Jason Cox said.
However, ARL candidates tend to bring with them more field-specific expertise and content knowledge, which can be helpful in teaching.
“We love that they are experts and that they can bring that knowledge and they can bring practical knowledge to the classroom,” said Lana Hiskey, communications and community relations administrator for Nebo School District.
From a student perspective, having the option to hire ARLs allows the districts to offer classes they otherwise wouldn’t be able to find teachers for, according to Kevin Cox.
“They just wouldn’t have the offering, just wouldn’t have the ability to even take the class, and so in that respect, they seem to be grateful that there’s even a chance to have the class in the first place,” Kevin Cox said.
From a teacher perspective, the ARL program can provide a shorter and less expensive path to licensure, albeit perhaps less comprehensive than a traditional teaching degree, according to Matt Kelsch, an ARL, health teacher and athletic trainer at Lone Peak High School in Highland.
“I have considered both routes and in my position, the ARL was the best option for me because I was able to teach while I am getting the licensure done,” Kelsch said. “That sometimes is a big deal, especially when one is jumping from one career to another. They sometimes can’t afford to be without work while going back to school for a teaching degree.”
Participating in the ARL program opened up a new career path for Ruthann Snow, who became licensed a few years ago at Wasatch Elementary School and is currently Provo City School District’s language arts curriculum specialist.
Snow put finishing her bachelor’s degree at BYU on hold two classes shy of a bachelor’s in communications after marrying young and starting a family. But she later developed a desire to teach as she volunteered in her kids’ schools.
She considered going back to BYU and starting an elementary education degree from scratch to become a teacher, but as soon as she heard about the ARL program, she knew that was a better fit.
“I’m incredibly grateful,” Snow said. “I’m very grateful that Utah and school districts are taking a look at people who are coming from a different path, but are seeking to get into education.”
At the same time, Snow feels she has had to work harder and prove herself more as an ARL because of her non-traditional path to teaching.
“I don’t know if parents and even other educators truly understand that the process is not easy and it’s very time consuming, and that’s good,” Snow said. “I think that’s important because there’s an evaluation system in place to make sure that teachers have basic content knowledge before they’re accepted into the program. … I think just the biggest hurdle is getting principals and districts to feel comfortable and know that we can work with an ARL candidate.”
Kelsch said determining whether the ARL program is a good option depends on what an individual is planning to teach.
“If you are going to be teaching math, English, science, I think that going to college to get a teaching degree is the better choice. But if you are going to be teaching trade work, health related, any CTE classes, I feel that bringing people from those particular careers would be the better choice since they have great knowledge and experience that they can bring,” he said. “I guess the thing to look at is time frame, cost and what it is you want teach that will determine which route to take.”