OGDEN — About 230 junior high and high school students across Weber School District gathered at Weber Innovation Center Friday, many of them participants in a competition for those who want to become teachers.
About 90 of the attendees competed, said Becky Sagers, Weber School District’s career and technical education coordinator. The competition included categories like delivering lesson plans, authoring and illustrating children’s literature and grappling with ethical dilemmas.
“Not every student is quite brave enough to compete,” Sagers said, “and so this is a practice event to get our students’ feet wet.”
The remaining students participated in conference workshops, where they practiced many of the same skills.
Students were getting a trial run before a similar state competition March 4 at the Eccles Conference Center in Ogden. Districts from across the state, probably about six of them, will bring students to the event, Sagers said.
The winners will represent Utah at the national competition in June in Washington, D.C., Sagers said.
This is the first year Weber School District has held a competition, Sagers said. Last year, the district held a similar event that was comprised solely of workshops.
Students aren’t the only ones getting practice. Sagers said competition organizers also wanted to learn from the district-level event in preparation for the first state competition.
The competition is part of the Educators Rising Career and Technical Student Organization, a student club in its first academic year in Utah, Sagers said.
Educators Rising is offered at all secondary schools in the Weber district, and it enhances the district’s education and training pathway, a series of courses that allow junior high and high school students to explore and prepare for a career in teaching.
The pathway is older than Educators Rising, but still relatively new. It’s one of Utah’s 15 career and technical education pathways.
Weber School District piloted the education and training pathway with two classes of 35-40 students during the 2017-2018 academic school year.
After the success of the pilot courses, the district rolled out courses in grades 9-12 at every junior high and high school the following year, when about 180 students participated in the Educators Rising Conference.
That number went up by about 50 students this year, an increase of about 28%.
The district does not have a count of how many students have participated in at least one course in the education and training pathway during first or second semesters of the 2019-2020 academic year, Sagers said, but the number is definitely higher than 230.
The district launched the pathway courses in response to the state’s teacher shortage, which is part of a larger shortage at the national level. This shortage has led to competitions among districts for teachers, and some of the most significant teacher salary increases in recent years.
“They’ve done some interesting studies that if you have a student that’s involved in education and training pathway, and they go ahead and graduate as a teacher, they usually come back (to work) within their home district at a pretty high percentage rate,” Sagers said.
The six districts that will probably be participating at the state Educators Rising competition — Ogden, Davis, Granite, Canyons and Nebo — are also those that are interested in or already collaborating to build education and training pathways, Sagers said.
In addition to districts benefiting from the pathway, the students are as well, they say.
Sagers said one of the themes in student feedback on the pathway program has been that the participants have become better students by learning about teaching.
Leilani Christensen, a senior at Bonneville High School, said the pathway courses helped her realize that she was good with young children and could use that strength to be a preschool teacher.
During the conference, she was busy writing thank-you notes to her recess aides, one whom also worked as a classroom aide and helped her come out of her shell, she said.
Anna Nickel-Myers, a sophomore at Weber High School, said that participating in the pathway courses made her pay closer attention to her teachers every day, which built her appreciation for how hard they work.
“My teachers, even though they watched me struggle through it, they’ve never quite given up on me. They’ve always pushed me to do my best. They’ve always given me chances to relearn the material, even if it takes me longer than other students,” Sager said.
“And that’s what really motivates me,” Nickel-Myers said. “ ... I want to let ... future generations be able to know that even though they struggle through something, that there is always somebody behind them that is willing to sit back and help them more, even if it takes a bit longer than others.”
Nickel-Myers wants to teach math, English or agriculture science, the very subjects where she’s struggled, she said — but this struggle hasn’t kept her from getting good grades or enjoying her classes.
Kamron Stewart, a junior at Roy High School, said that teachers helped him through some stressful times when he was young, and he wants to be able to “repay the community.” Stewart says the pathway has also helped him realize he wants to pursue training in special education.
He went to school in Washington state, where they didn’t have similar teacher preparation courses. He’s glad he ended up in a place where he could learn more about teaching as a career.
“I feel like it’s put me light years ahead where I would be,” Stewart said. “It’s helped solidify my decision. I know I want to teach now. Instead of just have a feeling, I know it’s what I want to do.”