There is no substitute for public education – The Daily Utah Chronicle
More and more teachers calling in sick from the Omicron variant strained an already understaffed education system. On January 31, Governor Spencer Cox issued an executive order allowing state employees to take approved time off from work to replace substitute teachers in Utah schools. The Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce followed suit and urged local businesses to allow workers to do the same. Rather than addressing the root problem, the lack of teachers, Utah has devoted those resources to a band-aid solution. Without adequate pay for teachers and teaching assistants, Utah’s public education system will deteriorate further, leaving behind a shoddy private education system that harms its students.
Substitute teachers or substitute babysitters?
Governor Cox recently spent a day substitute teaching a history class of 7th and 8th graders, teaching them about American and Utah history. In the short video, he tweeted out, he expresses his gratitude to our hard-working educators, especially the one he replaced, who prepared most of the lesson for him. While this teacher, Ms. Pederson, probably appreciates the gratitude, it doesn’t make up for the extra work she had to put in while her students were still falling behind.
Teaching is more than just facilitating a lesson plan. Sending a random government employee into a classroom delegitimizes the important work that teachers do. They’ve spent a lifetime honing the art of understanding different learning styles, reading body language, clearly explaining concepts, encouraging collaboration, sparking interest and more.
Teaching is not learned in a day. Treating teachers as easily replaceable and expendable seems like a bad way to express gratitude for them. Instead, Governor Cox and the Legislature could use this opportunity to raise teachers’ salaries and create a strong network of teaching assistants and substitute teachers who could adequately replace them. Unfortunately, they chose to go in the opposite direction.
A difficult time to teach
The average starting salary for teachers in Utah is $43,000. This number is higher than the living wage of a single person without children in counties from Tooele to Salt Lake, but it is well below the living wage of a parent. Our teachers do not live in poverty, but the difficulty and the importance of the work far exceed its remuneration. And it only gets worse.
At the start of the 2021-22 school year, primary school students were already several months behind because of the pandemic. As teachers continue to run out of time during the pandemic, this number will only increase. And these students will continue to fall behind in each subsequent class, making every teacher’s job harder.
But the challenges don’t stop with the students. Parents and legislators are increasingly involved in the complexity of teachers’ lives. Now teachers must delicately balance the Utah school board‘s absurd demands to teach critical race theory, LGBTQ+ literature has been banned from many Utah school libraries and a project by legislation currently in the legislature, parents would have the ability to remove their children from learning about anything they find objectionable. This incredibly divisive climate leaves teachers underpaid, undervalued and subservient to angry and irrational parents. With these challenges, it’s no wonder we have a shortage of teachers.
What will remain of our education system?
Governor Cox and his party have repeatedly undermined our public education system, even though it provides lip service to Utah teachers. Our teachers endure so much because they believe in the importance of education. But this endurance can only last for a while. As new generations of teachers opt for more desirable pursuits, or at least ones that don’t strain their sanity and bank accounts, Utah’s public education system will fall even further into disarray. .
Speakers at the 2020 Republican National Convention repeatedly hammered home the value of “school choice” as an alternative to our public schools. Governor Cox presented on “reducing regulations” in our education system.
Conservative politicians are broadly in favor of privatizing our schools. When the legislature continues to strip Utah’s public schools of their resources, the only chance for a “good” education will come from private schools. For those who cannot afford to send their children to a private school, their children will spend their time in dilapidated classrooms with far too many students and far too few teachers. For those who can, they will have to wade through a barrage of schools that boast of a “patriotic,” “American-first,” or “God-first” upbringing.
Governor Cox’s executive order is another example of the Republican Party neglecting the foundation of quality public education – teachers. If we offer nothing but gratitude and a random state employee to help teachers through this difficult time, our education system will turn into a privatized mess. Utah students and educators deserve better. Let’s start devoting resources to improving public education, not governor photo ops.