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Herald editorial: Appreciating the roles teachers play in Utah Valley

September 2, 2018

One issue that most can agree on, regardless of political alignment or policy preference, is that children are critically important to our futures.

There are countless adages and turn-of-phrases that could relate to this belief, so we won’t bore you with idioms and clichés. But just know that we believe, as we hope most of our readers do, that children are the heartbeat to Utah County’s future, and as such, our education systems are what get that pulse ticking.

But the education system of Utah County is unique. It faces many challenges, some which it can overcome and some with which it’s struggling. Seeing as the children of today will be the policymakers, leaders and entrepreneurs of the future, some of them, God willing, will even be teachers themselves, we felt it was vital to detail the circumstances of Utah County’s education system and how it impacts every facet of life in the valley.

Over the next two weeks, the Daily Herald will publish a special series of articles entitled “The State of Education in Utah County.” Our newsroom staff have worked tirelessly on this project for months, hunting down sources, finding unique, inimitable stories to tell and gathering gigabytes of data, all to help our readers better understand why education in Utah County is at a critical juncture.

The breadth and focus of articles covers such topics as teacher salaries, the impact of Brigham Young University and Utah Valley University on area districts, profiles on support and administrative staff and an exclusive column from an area teacher who has seen tremendous changes in our education system in her 25 years of teaching. There were countless interviews, an inordinate amount of voicemails placed, and a few too many times we gave the Utah Valley school districts spokespeople major headaches. Caleb Price with Provo City School District, Lana Hiskey with Nebo School District and David Stephenson and Kim Bird with Alpine School District are owed a tremendous debt for the tremendous aide they rendered in making these articles a reality.

The nation faces a shortage of teachers across all levels and facets of education; from kindergarten teachers to AP English teachers, and every head coach and school counselor in between.

When we first began exploring this topic in March, we assumed Utah County was in a similar situation. Many of our reporters heard constant stories about how teachers stay at schools for a few years before leaving the state to pursue other life interests or family needs.

But where other districts even in our state fail to maintain adequate staffing, Utah County districts have remained largely unfazed to the teacher shortage thanks mostly to partnerships between BYU and UVU.

But that’s a double-edged sword. Recruiting and enrollment in the education fields have been on a steady decline at both universities, creating a potentially critical situation for our schools’ futures.

Teaching also has an undervalued representation, due to traditionally low pay, strenuous circumstances and myriad of other conditions that can place this career choice at the bottom of many lists. We’re not suggesting that throwing money at the problem will just make it go away. Many professions often cite a lack of adequate salaries and stressful circumstances as the primary deterrent. We understand a lot of variables factor into teacher pay, and we hope that through this series, you, our readers, will understand that too.

There isn’t an easy solution to make the teaching profession more palatable. We know — we did the research. But we also hope that by the end of this series, someone will come to appreciate educators just a little bit more and maybe, if our wildest dreams come true, enter the teaching profession. We also hope questions are answered, different perspectives are gained and, for lack of a better way of putting it, people feel more educated.

To reiterate, our children are our future. The talents and expertise we constantly tout as the lifeblood of Utah County must be groomed at an early age by equally talented educators. We hope that even on the most stressful, most thankless days when the only respite is the end-of-day bell, Utah Valley’s teachers know that we admire and respect them, and we hope this series illustrates that.

Teaching is often called one of the noblest professions. Let’s treat it that way and help our educators succeed in their high calling of engaging the bright, young minds of the future of Utah County.

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