It’s Thursday-Thank a Teacher: Wendy Rush Edition

My favorite day of the week is now Thursdays! I look forward to spotlighting a new Utah teacher every week and learning about the amazing things they do inside and outside their classrooms. This week we are featuring Wendy Rush, who works as an Instructional Coach at a virtual school. I am excited to learn more about her.


Where did you do your teacher prep? Brigham Young University

Where have you taught in your teaching career? I have taught at Mapleton Elementary School. I worked several years as Mentor for BYU Summer Practicum, and I currently work at Utah Virtual Academy.

What is the funniest thing a student has ever said? “I know what you’re going to say, and let me be clear, I am never going to have a “growth mindset.”

What advice would you give to new teachers? Collaborate, collaborate, collaborate!!!

What is your favorite teacher resource? I love Digital Readworks!

Describe any experience you have had in education policy. Working with Hope Street Group to lead teacher focus groups, collect and compile data, develop and host #Utedchats, and attend my first Educators day on the Hill.

What’s the biggest change you would like to see in education? I want to see teachers being paid a living wage. No teacher should have to work 2 jobs and one in the summer to make ends meet.

Why did you choose to become an educator and why do you choose to stay in the profession? I am energized by good teaching. I look at it as an art form, and I take pride in excellence in my educational practices.

Anything else we should know? My favorite students are the most challenging students! The more difficult they are to reach, the greater the pay-off when you get through!


Wendy! Thanks for being an amazing Utah educator. Follow her teacher leadership journey on Twitter @WendyRush16


Written by Kristin van Brunt

I was brought up to believe that we shouldn’t do things simply to be recognized or appreciated…that our actions should be independent of any acknowledgement we may or may not receive. Although I still believe that recognition should not be the impetus for our actions, I have found that appreciation has incredible power to affect people in a positive way.

Recently, the transformative power of appreciation hit home for me when I had a visit from the superintendent of Davis School District. He came to my school on a teacher work day specifically to visit me. A few months ago, I published an article about the importance of relationships in education. I am not sure how he came across the article, but he did. He read it and came by my school to thank me. This is an incredibly busy man. He is responsible for a district of almost 70,000 students, 2,500 educators,
and more than 80 schools. He didn’t have to visit. He didn’t have to acknowledge me or my article at all. But he did. He chose to take the time to come to my school to thank me for my perspective and what I do for kids. It was a short visit, but it meant the world to me. I felt appreciated. I felt like what I did mattered. That recognition energized me to jump into a new semester with a positive outlook.

After this brief meeting, I realized how much that act of appreciation mattered, and I determined to pass along that recognition to others. Mary Kay Ash stated: “Everyone wants to be appreciated. So if you appreciate someone, don’t keep it a secret.”  I’ve decided to take that advice to heart. Each week, I plan to let a minimum of two people know how much I appreciate them and what they do. This could be teaching colleagues, students, administrators, family, or friends. I am hopeful that this small action will
encourage others the way the superintendent’s visit encouraged me.

Kristin is an English Teacher at Viewmont High School in Bountiful, Utah. Follow her on Twitter at @vb_kristin


Lynette is an incredible teacher and a passionate advocate for her students. She wrote a powerful article on teaching tolerance and empathy to her high school students, that has gone viral! You can read her story, Utah’s New Standards – Now Featuring Empathy her story, on Sevenzo. The Utah Teacher Fellows are privileged to have Ms. Yorgason as a part of the inaugural cohort. Here is a little more about Lynette:

Where did you do your teacher prep? I completed my teacher prep at BYU-Provo.

Where have you taught in your teaching career? I was a substitute for Weber District, I taught at Mount Vernon Academy, and I am currently at Itineris Early College High School.

What is the funniest thing a student has ever said? “Fine! You buzzkills! I just wanted to worship our lord and savior Pingu!

* For those of you not familiar with Pingu, it’s a show about a penguin.

What advice would you give to new teachers? Write down the positive! It’s easy to get bogged down in the negative and hard. Be reflective enough to improve, but not so much that you are paralyzed by all the things you need to be better at. Be honest with your students about what you don’t know and your failings. Respect your students like human beings instead of treating them as “kids” and they will respect you back.

What is your favorite teacher resource? Stanford History Education Group

Describe any experience you have had in education policy. Directly after getting my Masters in ESL, I went to an advocacy conference in Washington D.C. and I was terrified. And while I still have a lot to learn, I quickly realized that I really was the expert in the room. After getting over the initial excitement/terror of being in the Senate or House offices, I sat down with staff and gave them information they didn’t have before and was able to give them insight and experience that they weren’t aware of. It was so empowering. It’s hard sometimes to think of myself as a professional, teaching feels like it’s a mix between just being a big student and being a caregiver for students. But when I was in those offices I came to understand that I am a professional with knowledge that these people really needed in order to do their jobs effectively.

What’s the biggest change you would like to see in education? I want to see more empathy, I want to see students being taught how to talk to people who are different than them and how to understand, resolve, or live with their differences.

Why did you choose to become an educator and why do you choose to stay in the profession? I don’t remember choosing to be an educator, but once I got into the classroom and started to understand my students lives and needs I knew I didn’t want to leave. I stay because of my students. I want them to succeed, I want them to be advocated for, I want them to believe in themselves.


Isn’t she awesome?! Follow her on Twitter @LynetteYorgason Thanks for all you do!


Senate Bill 95 is a Great Idea to Help Combat the Teacher Shortage/A Win-Win for Everyone

Utah is facing a teacher shortage.  Recent media stories and research has indicated that more than half of new teaching hires will leave the profession within five years. It is anticipated here that this will not drastically change in the not-so-distant future. Some positive things are afoot in regards to teacher compensation, but even with that said, the demands on teachers remain so large and destructive, that it is anticipated that the teacher shortage and turnover will remain at a critical level for years to come.

One legislative solution looks to remedy the situation by turning to recent retirees. There was a time that those that retired could actually reenter right back into the profession and even work to obtain a second pension while being paid their original pension they earned through their long and dedicated service. However, that changed a few years back when new legislation required teachers to sit out one complete calendar year. They could then land a teaching position, but they would not be able to work toward an additional pension. Also, it wasn’t that retired teachers had to wait to go back into teaching, they could not work at any other state position whether it be at a golf course, doing mosquito abatement, or as a driver education instructor within the state or school system. As novice teachers decided staying in the profession wasn’t worth it, the pool of retired teachers as potential hires also dried up a bit. Certainly, some waited that calendar year and then jumped back into what was the new version of “double dipping.” But a calendar year can be a long time, and then taking away any other possibility for state job employment on top of that, only aggravated the frustration many retirees felt.

Senate Bill 95 has bipartisan support.  Its senate sponsor is Democrat Jani Iwamoto, while in the House Republican Steve Eliason is listed as the sponsor. This fact is encouraging. The bill also has the blessing of the Utah Retirement System (URS). What the bill basically does is reduce the waiting period from one calendar year to 60 days.  It would require prospective employers (districts) to pay what amounts to an actuarial settlement to the URS.  As the bill goes forward it will go understandable tweaking with what this percentage will be, and it won’t be an exact amount anyhow as it will vary for each retired teacher that is rehired. However, it is hoped that this bill does get passed.  It is seen here as a huge win-win-win for districts, teachers, and most importantly, the students.

Veteran teachers have plenty to offer students and schools.  And while they will make more money than a first-year teacher out of university, they won’t be making the same salary as they were when they retired. And under current rules, they would not be earning a second pension. The districts would be paying the tab so no additional monies would be coming out of the WPU (Weighted-Pupil Unit). The actuarial settlement is there to help lessen, or even eliminate entirely, any impact on the URS, though it is not sure here what the impact would be in the first place.  However, trust for the URS, when its experts say some settlement is indeed needed, generally exists by the critical stakeholders. It is seen as positive that the settlement in the bill’s current form is taken on by the prospective employer (vs. the prospective employee), but this could change as the bill goes through its final permeations.  Even if that did change to the prospective employee entirely, or shared between the two parties, the bill would still deserve support.

Allowing retired teachers to return to the classroom in a much easier way also sends a message that retired teachers are valued. They should be put on a higher list of desired potential hires than alternative licensure applicants and this bill sends that clear message. The vast, vast majority of retirees have put in 30 (or more) teaching years, and this successful experience should be valued. And sitting out (just) 60 days would be a significant, positive step and makes the potential pool of retiree applicants deeper and more immediate. Often times, those who have been forced to wait this calendar year have moved on to other line of work or even have left the state altogether to find teaching positions. This would allow districts to strike while the “iron is hot” so to speak to hire these recently retired teachers who will help address the teaching shortage. Most importantly these retired teachers coming back will bring incredible assets to the schools that hire them.  Any bill that makes this easier for retired teachers to come back and for districts to look to this source to solve the teacher-shortage concernes deserves support from the larger teaching community.



It’s Thursday-Thank a Teacher: Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh Edition

Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh is a giant in Utah education and advocacy. Her passion is unparalleled. She was the 2009 Utah Teacher of the Year and is a member of the National Network of State Teachers of the Year (NNSTOY) and the Utah State Teachers of the Year (UTSTOY) chapter. She was a recipient of the 2009 California Casualty Academic Award for Teaching Excellence and the 2009 Horace Mann Award for Teaching Excellence, as well as the National Education Foundation’s top honor in 2010, the $25,000 NEA Member Benefits Award for Teaching Excellence. Sharon is also a NEA Foundation Global Learning Fellow, formerly visiting Peru and Finland and continuing the learning journey with a visit to China this year. She is currently the Chair of the National Education Association Foundation’s Board of Directors. Sharon has served on the Commission on Effective Teachers and Teaching, The Council of Accreditation of Teacher Preparation Programs, the Teacher Residency Task Force, the Teacher Accountability Task Force and the Governor’s Education Excellence Commission. In 2010, she was elected, in a statewide vote, as the President of the Utah Education Association and served in this position for a total of six years. She has more than 38 years of experience in public education. A National Board Certified Teacher, Sharon is the current vice-chair of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards Board of Directors.

Whew! That is an impressive career and she is nowhere near stopping! Here is a little bit more about Sharon:

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Where did you do your teacher prep? Loretto Heights College in Denver and I received a Master’s Degree with Teacher Leadership Certificate from National University in La Jolla, CA.

Where have you taught in your teaching career? Taught in Salt Lake City School District at Dilworth Elementary teaching both special education and second grade.

What is the funniest thing a student has ever said? There are so many wonderful comments from students. One which comes to mind is a student who came to school late one morning and she told me, “My dad cannot get his act together as good as my mom can in the morning. You need a woman.” This from a seven year old! I laughed so hard.

What advice would you give to new teachers? You are not alone. Seek out help from respected colleagues. Remember as a teacher, you hold tremendous power for both good and bad. There are no do-overs in education so give every student your best. While the monetary rewards are not significant, the letters you receive from former students expressing how you impacted their lives are priceless.

What is your favorite teacher resource? My colleagues! They provide support, encouragement and act as a critical friend!

Describe any experience you have had in education policy. Tons! After being names the 2009 Utah Teacher of the Year, I decided to run for President of the Utah Education Association. In my role as UEA President, I dealt with the Utah State Legislature, the State Office of Education, and local administration on a regular basis. I served for six years on Governor Herbert’s Education Commission. In addition, I testified before Congress on wrap-around services for students.

What’s the biggest change you would like to see in education? I would love for teachers to be respected as the classroom experts in collaboration with parents. We are the credible messengers for what works in classrooms and with students. It would be great to have adequate resources and tools to do our job. This would include lower class sizes to meet the needs of our students.

Why did you choose to become an educator and why do you choose to stay in the profession? Simply said, “To make a difference in the lives of my students.” There is nothing more powerful. Now that’s a legacy!

Anything else we should know? Love the quote, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” What better place to live it than in education.

If are a new (or experienced) teacher leader, Sharon is a great educator to follow on Twitter @SharonGF_NBCT

It’s Thursday-Thank a Teacher: Denise Willmore Edition

Denise Willmore is part of the inaugural cohort of the Utah Teacher Fellows. She is an incredible advocate for teachers and students in Utah. You can read about one of her #caringclassroom practices on Sevenzo. Let’s get to know her!


Where did you do your teacher prep? Northern Michigan University and The University of St. Thomas. I am so thankful that I had a student teaching experience where a worked at the side of a veteran teacher. I believe that this was the foundation of my development as an educator.

Where have you taught in your teaching career? Mounds View Public Schools, MN; Douglas County, CO; Davis District, UT.

What is the funniest thing a student has ever said? There are so many… A first grade student opened a map and looked at me very puzzled. She said, “Mrs. Willmore, I see New Mexico, where is old Mexico?”

What advice would you give to new teachers? Be reflective, collaborate with your team, and take care of yourself. The best classroom practice doesn’t happen overnight. It is important to continually reflect on what worked in your teaching and what you would do differently. Your colleagues are your greatest resource and support. Communicate with your team, collaborate on lesson and share ideas. You will learn from your veteran colleagues and they will learn from you.

What is your favorite teacher resource? Utah Online Library. There are many wonderful resources to use in the classroom and also for educational research.

Describe any experience you have had in education policy. I have collaborated with UEA to give feedback on ESSA. I am also a member of the Professional Learning Task Force for USBOE. I have worked at my district level to give feedback on local issues such as therapy dogs in the classroom, math curriculum, and contract hours. In addition, I have attended Educator on the Hill for the past 4 years and communicated with legislators. I have also participated in interviewing candidates for local and state elected positions.

I would encourage educators to communicate with policy makers at the local and state level. If something isn’t working in your classroom, do not be afraid to ask questions and produce a viable solution. If every teacher in the state did one small thing to have their voice heard, it would expand teacher voice exceptionally.

What’s the biggest change you would like to see in education? At this time, lower class size. I feel like students are coming into classrooms with increasing issues and it is very difficult to meet every students needs. I currently have 27 students in my classroom and have 10 students receiving some type of intervention. I know that I would be much more effective if I had 3-7 less children.

Why did you choose to become an educator and why do you choose to stay in the profession? I was a struggling learner as an elementary student and I was inspired by an educator that encouraged me to never give up. I stay in the classroom because of my students. I love when I teach a lesson and see faces light up and when students are excited to learn. I believe that every students deserves an educator that believes in them and advocates for their needs.

Anything else we should know? I am a very passionate teacher and advocate for public education. I believe that we can do so much more for students in Utah. I believe that teacher voice is vital in making changes in our profession.

Follow Denise on her teacher leadership journey via Twitter @willtoteachmore

What would you tell a first year teacher?

As part of the revamp of The Utah Teacher– teachers from around the state will be sharing their thoughts on this wonderful, and sometimes complicated, profession. The first guest post comes from Provo teacher and Utah Teacher Fellow, coach Brian Preece. He has over 25 years experience in the classroom and shares what he would tell first year teachers. Take it away coach:

What would you tell a first year teacher?

There is this question bouncing around social media on “what would you tell a first year teacher?”

This causes my own mind to race.

Most young hires won’t last five years these days.  Should I tell them to go full bore, pouring all their time and their soul into every single day knowing that in the end they aren’t likely to last anyway?

Or should I remind them that teaching is more of a marathon then a 100-yard dash?  In a marathon you are indeed moving forward but you have to get through that 26.2 miles so that requires proper pacing.

I was single when I started teaching and that brings different challenges then being married with a family.  I think having my own children gave me new perspectives on teaching and learning and relationships that I wish I knew when I was a young, single first-year teacher. But the advantage of being single was that I had more time and energy to spend on my classroom students.  Each stage in life has its advantages and disadvantages.

I’m not even sure after 28.5 plus years (but who’s counting) that I really am that great of a teacher to give any advice to anyone.  I had a lot of victories, a lot of defeats, a lot of triumphs, a lot of heartbreaks.  I feel as inadequate as I did when I started all of this in 1989.  But it isn’t inadequate totally in a bad way. I just feel that I don’t know everything (I should) and there’s so much to learn.

The coolest thing ever about teaching is that it’s where I met my wife.  She was student teaching in special education. I was plugging along in about year eight of my career as social studies teacher and head wrestling coach. We met, it was love at first sight, and the rest, as they say, is history.

So after a few paragraphs I know I’ve offered nothing.  I’ve got a lot of suggestions running through my head but I just can’t narrow it down to one thing or even a few things.  Okay on further thought I have this and it is very important.  I will capitalize for extra emphasis.



Why I haven’t quit teaching

Our last two posts have been on the theme of why Utah teachers are staying in the profession. These have been highly read article posts! With so much emphasis on why teachers are leaving, maybe we should change our focus to why teachers are staying. Is that the key to retaining high quality teachers? Focus on increasing the reasons to stay instead of focusing on all the reasons to leave?

To continue our study of why Utah teachers are staying, I’d like to share Michele Jones’ story:


The end of last year I had a sad experience. A colleague of mine who started teaching the same year I did informed me he had decided to quit the teaching profession. He had many reasons why: the work load, the constantly changing curriculum and programs, punitive teacher evaluation metrics, money, the amount of stress, lack of supports for students – and then he offered to put my name in for a similar position he was taking: a 9–5 job making almost double my current salary, but outside the field of education. I did not even think about it. I said no thanks.

Then I started thinking about why. Why do I continue teaching in my classroom? There are so many reasons to leave. At first the answer seemed simple: I stay for my students. But for my fellow colleagues who have left the teaching profession, I know this same reason (the students) made it hard, even excruciating, to leave and yet it was not enough to make them stay.

Feeling that I can make a difference for students

Then I realized the difference. I stay because I feel I can successfully teach and have a positive influence on the lives of my students. On the surface, this may seem like a slight difference, but in actuality it is significant and nuanced. There are so many factors that contribute to the fact that I feel capable of making a positive difference in the lives of my students.

The students are always a reason teachers stay, but Michele shares even more reasons she chooses to teach! Read the full story on Sevenzo.

Debbie, Dave, and Michele are all excellent examples of the teachers we want in the profession! Thanks for sharing your story and inspiring other teachers. Leave us a comment and share why YOU stay.

Why Do Utah Teachers Stay? Part II

Yesterday, we shared Debbie Morgan’s story on what keeps her in the classroom. Today we are excited to share Dave Horan’s recently published post on why he was ready to quit *SPOILER* he didn’t quit! Read why:

There is nothing easy about teaching. Throughout my life, things have usually come pretty easy to me. When I was in college, classmates would comment on how I seemed to make things look effortless. I was asked why I was going into education when I could do anything I wanted. However, teaching was what I wanted. It was my calling and I wanted to make a difference. Since I have become a teacher, I’ve learned that no matter how much of a natural born teacher you are or how hard you work on your craft, it is still hard.
 During my teaching career, there have been several moments where I have wondered if I was making the difference I had hoped. Moments where I felt like I was doing the best I knew how, but it just wasn’t enough. This past year was exceptionally hard. I began to have these thoughts on a regular basis. 
 I understood that the first few years of teaching would be hard, but this was my ninth! Shouldn’t things be getting easier? After a culmination of events, I had to really stop and think about the future of my career in the classroom. Like far too many educators, I was ready to quit.


Ahh! Are you dying to find out what happened? Dave is still a teacher, find out what changed his story. You can read his full post on the Hope Street Group Medium blog.

Horan, a 4th grade teacher in Utah’s Alpine School District is a Utah Teacher Fellow with Hope Street Group and NNSTOY. Follow him on Twitter @downrightdave.

Why Do Utah Teachers Stay? Part I

As anyone who follows education news knows, the nation is in the middle of a teacher shortage. Utah is no exception. While most seem to be focused on the difficulties facing teachers, Utah Teacher Fellows Debbie Morgan and David Horan share why they stay.

Debbie asks readers, What Keeps You in the Classroom?


Recently, a student asked me why I continue to teach. They were reading the various degrees, plaques, and certificates that were hanging on the wall beside my desk. “You could go do real science, make a lot more money, and not have to deal with us kids,” they insisted. Without hesitation, I responded, “For you!”

The Utah Education Policy Center at the University of Utah recently released a report stating that “by 2014-15, 56% of teachers who began in 2007-2008 were no longer teaching in a Utah classroom”. See to review the full report. Based on my own sixteen years of experience, I’m not surprised. You see, I tried leaving the teaching profession twice. Thankfully, I found my way back, but it wasn’t easy and now, looking back, I see several clear indicators of why I wanted to leave.

Intriguing, right? Read Debbie’s full story on her blog Lets Get Technical.

Read Dave’s story tomorrow in Part II of, Why do Utah Teachers Stay?