“First tip: don’t let your kids color your teaching certificate,” said Larry Hadley, human resources director at Weber School District. He was giving a presentation on landing a teaching job to junior high and high school students who want to be teachers.

Hadley would know. When he applied for his first job as a teacher, he submitted a certificate covered in his children’s art.

Hadley’s presentation was one of four rotations at an event earlier this month for 180 junior high and high school students in Weber School District as part of a program called Future Educators Rising, a new pathway offered by the district’s career and technical education department.

Weber School District started the program in an effort to end the local teacher shortage, but the district is not alone in facing this challenge. School districts across the country are struggling to lure candidates to the field.

The program is the first of its kind in Utah. District leaders visited model programs in several districts in Kentucky and Ohio. They drew upon elements of those programs in creating a plan for Utah, which has now been adopted by the state.

The program is growing rapidly. It is now in all of the district’s junior high and high schools.

“Right now the sky’s the limit,” Sager said. “We’re excited to see it this big this quickly. We piloted two classes on the ninth-grade level last year. And we went in every school this year.”

As part of the program, students participate in courses starting in ninth grade and continuing through their senior year.

They progress from learning about themselves and their own learning styles in ninth grade to writing lesson plans and assisting teachers in the classroom as seniors.

In the program, “students learn in ninth grade what has traditionally been first taught in college,” said Lane Findlay, community relations and safety specialist for the district.

Students participating in the program say it has already helped them prepare for a career in teaching.

Bethani Zimmerman, a seventh grader at Roy Junior High, has had an interest in teaching special education from a young age. She developed the interest while interacting with a younger cousin, who is autistic.

Zimmerman spent many of her recesses in elementary school working as a peer tutor in the special needs classroom.

“I always wanted to be a special needs teacher or a teacher of some sort,” Zimmerman said. “And then … when the Educators Rising thing was announced, I was like, this would be really cool because I could see if any of this could help me … being a special needs teacher.”

Through her participation in Educators Rising, she hopes to train to be a paraprofessional in a special needs classroom and eventually work in that role while earning her education degree.

Isabelle Carter, a senior in the program at Bonneville High School, said that the course she took her senior year — which included hands-on experience in the classroom — taught her that what happens in a classroom is unpredictable.

It also helped her realize the grade level she wanted to teach. After some experience in assisting junior high teachers, she decided that she really wants to teach high school.

“If you can start (the program) in ninth grade, you should,” Carter said. “If you start in ninth grade, you get really the whole experience. You can prepare all the way, and then … by the time you graduate high school, you really know if you want to do it or not.”

Rod Belnap, the district’s career and technical education director, said that the program helps students “appreciate teachers and appreciate education, and the skills they learn are valuable, no matter what profession they choose.”

Megan Olsen reports on education and environmental issues in Northern Utah for the Standard-Examiner. You can reach her at molsen@standard.net.

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