At this season of giving thanks and giving gifts, I find myself reflecting on a group of people who have enriched my life immensely as well as shaped and blessed the lives of almost everyone I know: teachers.
Teachers have tremendous influence on their students and an inspiring teacher can be from any discipline, including band and shop, or work in an extracurricular role, such as a coach. When researching the influence teachers had on whether young women attended college, more than one third of those we surveyed said a teacher had played a positive role in their decision to continue their education. The respondents cited a variety of ways they were impacted: words of encouragement, taking the time to listen, letters of recommendation, asking about their goals, and more. Sometimes just being passionate about a subject can change lives.
Such was the case with my high school political science teacher, Mrs. Hovey. She had such a love for the topic and was innovative in her approach. For example, she required us to be involved in a local political campaign in our city of Moscow, Idaho, where the whole high school was only 800 people. I’ve long forgotten the candidate for whom I volunteered, but I remember spending hours going door to door and talking to people about the issues he supported and just generally encouraging people to vote. It affected me powerfully. Back in class we shared our experiences, debated the issues, and vowed we’d always exercise our right to vote. And I have. Mrs. Hovey fed my passion for learning and social activism. She taught me that the best teachers know that learning goes well beyond textbooks or tests. It also inspired my interactive teaching approach when I was a teacher at Hillcrest Junior High in Murray in the 1980s. Mrs. Hovey’s class was a gift that I continue to benefit from; it still reminds me to be creative and thoughtful in my teaching at UVU.
Tragically, many students throughout the state are denied this gift as Utah is in the depths of a teacher shortage that has serious implications. Envision Utah has taken this crisis head on as part of its mission to establish a community-supported vision for growth in our state, addressing a wide range of topics and concerns. Their vision statement carefully outlines the teacher shortage, details why it’s escalating, and proposes solutions that will stop the hemorrhaging of educators, but also attract more people to enter the profession, and encourage former teachers to return to the classroom. For a quick overview of the shortage, I encourage you to watch this short video.
The best way to have a world-class education in Utah is to have world-class teachers. With an average pay of $54K a year, it’s understandable that even the most dedicated teachers may be unable or unwilling to stay in a career that compels one-third of them to get second jobs. As a society we say we value teachers, but their paychecks say otherwise. Teachers are a gift, and it’s time we gave back.