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The City Journals

Twenty-one Teachers Join Herriman High Faculty

Oct 06, 2016 02:53PM ● By Tori LaRue

One of the 21 new Herriman High School teachers receives instruction from a mentor teacher. (Gina Walker/Herriman High School)

By Tori La Rue | [email protected]

Herriman High School’s search for teachers wasn’t easy, and it’s not over. The school with the largest student population in the state hired 21 teachers over the summer, filling all essential teaching positions, but school administrators are still looking to potentially hire English/Spanish, math and science educators. 

“It’s been quite a journey—very hectic— because teachers, especially in the field of science and math, are extraordinarily hard to find,” Principal James Birch said. “You know, qualified teachers that have any background at all—even if they want to go the alternative route to licensure—I mean, trying to find them is tough.” 

The human resources department went out of state to try to find qualified candidates, the school called universities to entice senior secondary education students to fill the positions as interns and the district advertised in online and print mediums to try to fill their educator void. 

Every necessary position was filled, but the Spanish, math and science classes are still “slammed,” according to Birch, and 41 Herriman teachers are teaching seven periods instead of the usual six periods. Herriman would need seven teachers working normal hours to make up for the teachers who are working overtime. 

Teacher attrition is a statewide issue affecting educator vacancies. Two of every five teachers leave the profession within the first five years of teaching, according to the Utah State Office of Education, and teacher turnover accounted for 25 percent of Herriman High School’s teaching need. 

“You have teachers that are young and get married, have kids and they leave,” Birch said. “Or, in some cases, we have a math teacher who left and went to a company doing basically accounting work and got himself a three-times what he is making here raise. That’s tough to compete with.” 

But student incline was a larger issue than teacher attrition affecting Herriman High School’s need for qualified educators for the 2016–17 school year, accounting for 75 percent of the school’s hiring spree. The problem may get worse in years to come. 

The Utah Foundation expects the state school-age population to increase by 385,000 by 2050, and the student body of the current Herriman High School boundaries will likely increase from 2,650 to 4,700 students in the next five years, according to the Jordan School District. That’s why they proposed the construction of a new high school in Herriman in their five-year building plan and in their 2016 bond proposal. 

Herriman High administration can’t slow down the student population increase, but they can try to reduce the amount of teachers who leave to other schools and other professions. Sterling Hunt, a social studies teacher who’s been with Herriman since its beginning, said teachers come in “gung-ho” but often get discouraged when they can’t figure out how to manage a classroom or are taking excessive amounts of work home night after night while getting paid a low starting salary. 

Birch said the school’s created a mentor program to help teachers learn skills like lesson planning and classroom management, and Hunt suggests teachers get involved in other activities within a school, like coaching, being an administrator over a club or chaperoning dances to make extra money during their early years before their salary increases.  

A mentor teacher is assigned to each teacher who has less than three years of experience in the profession, so the new teachers will know where to turn when they have questions.

First-year teachers and mentors are part of the school’s Institute for Teachers, and they meet six days during the summer to learn the systems and culture of the school. The institute continues to meet once a month during the school year. 

“It’s a way for them to get out their questions and brainstorm solutions for challenges that come up in the classroom,” Birch said. “If there’s a teacher that’s not functioning correctly, I take it personally because that’s my job to make sure that doesn’t happen.” 

Birch said he’s hopeful the school will keep its new hires in years to come and said he’s excited to see what the seasoned teachers learn from their new colleagues. 

“The fresh faces they bring into each of the departments—it sort of acts like a wick to light the candle,” Birch said. 

“It reminds that older teacher, ‘Yeah, this is why I got into teaching,’” Hunt added. “Even those senior teachers can learn certain things from the new teachers.”