Editor’s Letter: What Do We Really Value?

Donna Barnes | Lehi Free Press

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Recently, I attended my 55th class reunion. It was great fun to see some of my old high school friends again. Some I hadn’t seen since graduation. As I was coming home, the thought occurred to me that many of the graduates went on to become teachers. Lynn Dubois, student body president, Juanita Jones Pope, class valedictorian, Barbara Brown, cheerleader, and several others chose education as their career—as did I.

One day later, in a conversation with a dear friend who was also a career teacher, she said, “Why would anyone encourage their son or daughter to become a teacher?” As the mother of four children in education and the grandmother of two grandchildren who are teachers, it gave me pause to consider the state of education in Utah. It is not a secret that Utah has the lowest per pupil expenditure in the nation and Alpine School District has the lowest per pupil expenditure in Utah. This dubious distinction seems in stark contrast to the apparent economic boom occurring in this part of the state. As one drives in this area, there are many wonderful new subdivisions springing up all over, where not one beginning teacher could hope to live.

As a high school and junior high school counselor, I spent many hours talking with parents and students about post high school plans. I would look with them at interest inventories and if there was even a suggestion by the test that education might be a good option for the student, parents would often say, “Oh, you wouldn’t want to do that. Teachers just don’t get paid enough.”  These are the very people who profess to love their children and want the best for them in every way, except when it comes to paying more to educate them.

Just prior to the Olympics being held in Utah, I was a counselor in a local junior high. Many families from around the country moved to our area. I remember well one such mother who came to register her son for school. She was unhappy about the fact that her husband had been transferred to Utah to help with the Olympics. They had been living in Virginia and their son was on track to attend Virginia Military Institute. His career goal was to attend West Point. She was anxious about the kind of academic preparation her son would receive at Mountain Ridge.

At Christmas time, this same mother came into my office waving her checkbook and said, “I want to give some money to my son’s algebra and world history teachers. They are the finest teachers my son has had.” She was elated by his entire educational experience and felt a need to give her son’s teachers more money. I will never forget her comment: “I can’t believe how poorly teachers in Utah are paid.” This was not the first, nor was it the last expression of this kind I heard by parents who came to Utah from other parts of the nation.

As a state, we are now experiencing a shortage of teachers. We are reaping what we have sown. As districts scramble to find enough teachers to staff their schools this fall, I can’t help but feel vindicated for the years of anger felt when I watched, both as a teacher and school board member, our legislators try to find every alternative to support education, but the best one—paying teachers in a way that shows we value them and the work they do in our schools!

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