A Major Player in Teacher Education
As Idaho and other states confront the ongoing teacher shortage problem, one university is growing its teacher education program and sending more qualified teachers into the workplace than ever before. BYU-Idaho, based in the Eastern Idaho town of Rexburg, now boasts some 3,000 education majors on campus, and is a significant source of professional educators for schools and classrooms around the state.
“Districts know they are getting well-trained teachers from BYU-Idaho,” says Karla LaOrange, Teacher Education Department Chair at the university. “We hear from them all the time, ‘your students come to the job better prepared.’” LaOrange is a former IEA member, teacher and administrator in District 91 (Idaho Falls).
IEA members Garrett Sorensen and Taylor Lusk graduated from BYU-Idaho, and both stayed nearby to pursue their teaching careers at Madison Junior High School in Rexburg. The two English teachers are also effusive in their praise regarding how BYU-Idaho helped prepare them to be good teachers. “The professors there were not just lecturers, but had a good rapport with the students and took a building block approach to preparing us,” says Sorensen, a Southern California native who found his way to teaching after contemplating working in the film industry.
Lusk is from Sugar City, Idaho, just North of Rexburg. He graduated from BYU-Idaho in 2016 and was hired on at Madison Junior High School after doing his student teaching at the school. “I learned a lot about the strategies of teaching, as well content knowledge,” he says. “And the faculty wanted us to succeed and pushed us to achieve.” Lusk is just ‘dipping my toes in the water’ of engagement in the Rexburg Education Association and the IEA, while Sorensen has been an active member for several years. He serves as Treasurer of the REA and has been a delegate to the IEA’s Delegate Assembly the last five years.
Real World Experience Matters
At a time when Idaho is allowing more alternative certifications than ever before, classroom management skills and hands-on experiences are still a big part of the experience at BYU-Idaho. “The crown jewel of our program is the amount on classroom experience and practicum our students receive even before their student teaching,” LaOrange says. “We are also proud of the standards we set in the program and the high level of accountability we have for our graduates.”
BYU-Idaho has more than 22,000 students on campus—roughly the same as Boise State University and larger than all the other higher education institutions in the state. It surprises many people to find out that only about 30% of the student population comes from Idaho. In part because of its affiliation with the LDS church, it draws students from a variety of domestic and international destinations—and has graduates working in many different locales as well.
The narrower focus of BY-Idaho allows it to play to its strength, particularly in the teacher education program. “We are not a research institution with our faculty focused on publishing,” notes LaOrange. “We do action-based research in class, and make sure that we are engaging with and mentoring our students.” BYU-Idaho also has intramural athletics, not intercollegiate athletics taking valuable resources and focus away from its core mission.
IEA Has Strong Ties to BYU-Idaho
IEA leaders in Eastern Idaho like Melanie Hammond (Rexburg EA Co-President), Barbara Blair (Sugar Salem EA Co-President), Angela Gillman (IEA Board of Directors and Idaho Falls EA), and Misty Taylor (IEA Region 6 President and Bonneville EA) also have degrees from BYU-Idaho. “The education I received at Ricks College (now BYU-Idaho) prepared me to continue my pursuit of a degree in elementary education,” says Blair. “My educational foundation was built there.”
In the face of a teacher shortage and in an era where public schools are frequently under attack, BYU-Idaho is committed to high-quality teacher education and is serving as a productive pipeline for the teaching profession, especially in Idaho. IEA President Kari Overall is a graduate of BYU-Idaho’s predecessor, Ricks College, and is happy to see the school emphasizing teacher education. “It is vital that we have well-trained educators coming into the profession, and BYU-Idaho continues to be a training ground for the next generation of teachers,” Overall says. “We have many dedicated members who used the BYU-Idaho program as a springboard to success, and we look forward to building more relationships with the school.”