Robert Stuart Middle School

Students walk the hallways between classes in March 2016 at Robert Stuart Middle School in Twin Falls. The Twin Falls School District is seeing a steady number of unlicensed educators this year at its campuses — and significantly more who aren’t going through traditional teacher preparation programs.

TIMES-NEWS FILE PHOTO

There’s a problem in Idaho when the barber cutting your child’s hair is licensed by the state but his schoolteacher is not.

Dozens of instructors across the Magic Valley are leading classrooms this year for the first time, some with little or no schooling in education, because districts can’t find enough licensed teachers.

There are at least 20 educators in the Twin Falls district alone this year who lack a teaching license.

Certainly, many of these unlicensed educators will turn out to be fantastic teachers. But ask yourself this: Would you rather have a licensed teacher leading your child’s classroom, someone who went to college to learn the best teaching methods and proved their skill by obtaining a license, or would you rather have someone with no teaching experience and a college education that may not have included a single course in teaching?

It’s a pretty easy choice. We’d take a qualified teacher every time.

So where are all the licensed teachers?

The number of certified teachers graduating from Idaho colleges has remained steady over the past few years, so it’s not that Idaho isn’t producing enough teachers. The problem is, they’re leaving the state for better pay, and those who do stay tend to seek jobs in the Treasure Valley.

That makes it all the harder for rural schools to compete. And as a result, we’re seeing more unlicensed teachers, particularly in smaller districts. About 70 percent of the state’s schools are considered rural.

When districts as large as Twin Falls are struggling to find licensed teachers, Jerome School District Superintendent Dale Layne told the Times-News last week, it means the pool of licensed teachers in Idaho has dwindled. And he doesn’t expect it to grow anytime soon.

At the center, this is an issue of economic disparity. Big districts have more cash to spend on qualified teachers; smaller districts tend to have less money.

The Idaho Legislature has boosted teacher pay incrementally over the past four years, and educators have generally applauded the program, especially because the system is designed to reward good teachers. But the teacher-pay structure, what’s come to be known as the “career ladder,” isn’t doing enough to keep qualified teachers in Idaho classrooms. It’s time for the Legislature to do more.

For their part, districts are doing their best to bring their new unlicensed teachers up to speed; unlicensed teachers have three years to work toward a state certificate. In Twin Falls, district officials run a mentoring program to help these new teachers learn how to manage a classroom and interact with students – skills licensed teachers already possess. That’s an investment of time and money the district shouldn’t be forced to make.

The Legislature must act soon before the teacher pool shrinks any further. If it doesn’t, don’t be surprised to find that barber at the front of your child’s classroom next year.

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