Commentary: We can do better for Utah students

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Kindergarten teacher Connie Orton, reads to her students at John Hancock Charter School in Pleasant Grove, Friday, Sept. 7, 2018.

We can do better. Thirty-three years as a classroom teacher and 10 years as a teacher advocate has convinced me of this. We can do better for our students, we can do better for our educators and we can do better for our schools. Because we live in a state that believes in the strength of family and the value of children, we can and must do better.

We can do better for our kids. Evolving technology has given us the opportunity to truly personalize education. For most students, sitting at home in front of a computer is not the best way to personalize education. Most students will need the support of peers and educators in order to learn and practice critical thinking, collaboration, communication and creativity. These skills will be necessary in the ever-evolving workplace and the increasingly interactive world. Technology has the potential to make work more productive and fulfilling, and to increase leisure time to appreciate the arts and natural beauty around us.

We must find ways to meet the individual needs of all of our students. Our schools include students with special needs; ethnic minorities; the LGBTQ community; the expanding lower and remaining middle classes; students with anxiety, depression or other mental health issues; and others whose needs may not be adequately met in our schools. We can do better.

We can do better for our educators. I have worked in education for over 40 years. In that time, student needs and the expectations placed on educators have increased tremendously. Educators feel less supported by decision makers and even, occasionally, by parents. At the same time, educators feel less supported financially, as they have seen their salaries not keep up with the cost of living or the salaries of those in their communities.

Teachers used to say, “I don’t receive the highest salary, but I do have good benefits and a pension.” Like many others in the middle class, teachers have watched their benefits whittled away, and the pension system for new educators is not equal to the pensions our currently retiring educators receive. We have a teacher shortage in this state, but we continue to ask our teachers to do more with less. We can do better.

We can do better for our schools. Our schools need to be sanctuaries from the stresses of the world. They need to be places where educators are empowered to meet the needs of students, students have access to the support and knowledge they need, principals are accessible in schools to support teachers and students, and other support personnel have the resources they need to help students move forward in their life journey in a positive and healthy way. We can’t expect schools to look like the workplaces of the future, but they must be equipped to provide students with the agility they will need to work in a world that will look more like Star Trek than Little House on the Prairie. We can do better.

Patrick Riley

Patrick Riley is executive director of the Davis Education Association and a candidate for State School Board in District 5.