Utah House Democrats hope to combat the state’s growing teacher shortage with a “package of bills” aimed to train and retain classroom teachers. The legislation is currently being drafted and would make improving teacher mentorship a priority.
Representative and former teacher Joel Briscoe says there’s one belief fundamental to the new bills he’s been working on:
“You cannot say that the most important thing to happen to a child in school is the quality of their teacher and then say anyone can do it," he says.
Briscoe represents District 25 located in the Sugar House neighborhood of Salt Lake. And he says the state does a poor job training new teachers.
This affects teacher quality and can contribute to burnout. Teachers are more likely to stay in the classroom if they’re adequately trained and supported.
That’s why mentorship is front and center with new legislation. Here’s the idea:
“There would be a teacher assigned to them who would be able to come in and watch them teach while they teach who would be able to come in and co-teach with them," says Briscoe, "Who would be able to put their arm around their shoulder literally and figuratively and help them become the teacher they can be.”
Now, on paper, most new teachers in the state already have a mentor teacher. But Briscoe says the name on the paper means nothing. "The issue is time.”
Mary Burbank, assistant dean at the University of Utah’s College of Education, agrees.
“Effective mentoring is more than a casual conversation in the lunchroom. Effective mentoring is more than a periodic email," Burbank says.
She adds that good, quality mentoring is a lot of work. Mentor teachers need to be trained. It's a lot different than working with a classroom of students.
And these mentors already have a lot on their plate.
“For teachers who are very busy and overburdened, asking them to take on a mentoring role without compensation is challenging," says Burbank.
She hopes the new legislation will address these needs. And Briscoe says it will. The legislation will also address an increase in teacher pay and financial help with college loans and house payments.
All of this, of course, comes at a cost. But to Briscoe that cost is more like an investment. An investment, he feels, that is long overdue.