Guest opinion: The real reasons teachers are leaving Utah

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What if education was funded in such a way that schools could recruit the highest educated, the most real-world experienced and most passionate people to educate their children?

On Sept. 12, 2018, Gov. Gary Herbert made a public plea for approximately 30,000 former teachers to consider returning to the classroom as a way to fix the growing shortage of classroom teachers.

A Deseret News article published on Sept. 13 included a website where formerly licensed teachers, or anyone who even thought about becoming a teacher, could indicate they were interested in returning to the teaching profession. Certainly, a teacher shortage is a critical issue that needs to be fixed because education quality ultimately impacts the future economy of both Utah and the United States.

The plea of the governor and the Utah State Board of Education is all well and nice, but nowhere is there any indication that the problems that led to teachers bailing out prematurely — or not starting a teaching career in the first place — have been fixed.

These problems are well known and well documented, yet they are still widespread. Number one, teachers are grossly underpaid as professionals; Number two, the ongoing and ever-increasing challenges of poor student behavior in the classroom; And three, the growing trend of poor parent behavior and increasing lack of respect from parents to teachers. None of these problems is easy or quick to fix. Much has already been written that simply “throwing money at the problem” won’t solve anything either. Or could it?

A brilliant mentor once told me, teachers are our own worst economic enemy. Our passion is to help children, youths and teens become educated, productive, contributing citizens of society. No one goes into teaching thinking they will become rich. We teach because we dare to think we can make a difference by instilling in students the ability to think and analyze and solve problems.

I chose to become a teacher after a successful 20 year career in high-tech business management and marketing. I clearly made my choice, but it hasn’t been easy. I dread every hiccup my car has, and fear every appointment with a health professional. The slightest wrong thing can cost hundreds of dollars and plunge me into a debt that takes years to work off.

Teachers are nationally categorized as the “working poor” by U.S. government standards of living. USA Today reported on Sept. 13, 2018 that the median income in the U.S. is $61,372 per year. After 15 years of teaching, my salary finally reached $50,000 per year, with a master’s degree. Nowhere is such a higher level of education rewarded so poorly.

What if education was funded in such a way that schools could recruit the highest educated, the most real-world experienced and most passionate people to educate their children? Would that change the quality of what happens in the classroom? I believe it would change the whole education environment. Teaching would become respectable again. Teachers would feel valued by their community and society as a whole. I believe it could change how parents view teachers as more than poorly paid, state-mandated, “glorified” baby-sitters.

Currently, I am seriously considering leaving this chosen profession that I have loved, simply to better prepare for retirement. As it is, I can’t afford to live as a teacher now, so my wife also works full-time. There is absolutely no way we could ever feasibly retire anytime within the next 10 years because we live paycheck to paycheck, just as hundreds of thousands of other highly qualified, desperately optimistic teachers do throughout our country of the American Dream. What is the answer?

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Higher taxation doesn’t feel like the best, or at least, the whole funding answer. Maybe the answer is in land, oil or tech investments. Maybe the answer is encouraging tax-exempt corporate donations. Maybe the solution is equitable, national funding for every school district. I hope the answer is not teachers feeling compelled to boycott schools until government and state school boards have the guts to fully confront the problems and finally fix them. Time will tell; Hopefully before it’s too late.

Paul Maloy has taught history and debate at the junior high school level for the last 15 years. Prior to that he was an Air Force officer followed by a successful 20-year career in hi-tech business management and marketing for several Utah companies.

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