As a young girl growing up, when people would inadvertently ask me, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” My answer would most assuredly be, “A teacher.” Teaching was a proud profession, one I and others I knew aspired to be part of. My parents had always stressed the importance of education in our home and for me; the ability to influence lives and inspire others was the perfect combination.
Fast forward to 2015, when students are asked the same question, the answer shifts to anything but teaching. The statistics bear this out with a recent study conducted by Tucson Values Teachers, in partnership with The University of Arizona College of Education and the Southern Arizona Leadership Council. “In surveying over 55,000 teachers statewide, the questions focused on: how teachers view their profession, the amount of time spent at work, how they relate to neighbors and parents of their students, and other important issues. Some 6,163 teachers answered with the report examining five major areas of concern to teachers – value, respect, trust, time and money – and found that teachers believe the public has a different perception of teaching than what is the reality.”
The report goes on to state, “Worrying numbers of good, experienced teachers are leaving Arizona, and the problems go well beyond inadequate pay. Teachers also feel that they are not valued or respected by the community, that they are not being trusted to do their jobs without micromanagement and that the time commitment has become overbearing. In terms of value, teachers said they do not expect to get rich teaching, yet want to be fairly paid. Teachers want to be paid equal to what other similarly educated and experienced professionals earn. AZ MAP Dashboard shows that the national median annual wage for secondary school teachers in 2014 was $56,310, while it was $9,000 a year less in Phoenix ($47,230) and $18,000 a year less in Tucson ($38,240).”
At this time of the year in Arizona when all teaching positions should be filled, there are still approximately 800 openings and over 250 job abandonments. That leaves classrooms with substitutes and districts scrambling to cover classes. In a June 19 article in the Washington Post, “According to new Census Bureau statistics, Arizona is near the bottom of a state list of spending per student at $7,208. The average per pupil spending around the country is $10,700, and the state is near or at the bottom for classroom spending per student.” It is hard to convince college students to join the ranks when our state is not investing as it should in education or teachers.
So what can we do about this teacher shortage? The Educator Recruitment & Retention Task Force from the Arizona Department of Education in their report of January 2015 listed strategies that schools and districts, the Arizona Department of Education and policymakers can implement and reinforce. They include sharing best practices from school districts on retention, increasing debt forgiveness for teachers who make teaching a long-term career, provide cost-effective high quality professional development, reward exceptional performance, recognize teachers for the incredible job they do to educate students every day, and let legislators know how vital a fair wage is for teachers. If we want our future teachers to enter and stay in the profession, we need to believe in them and support them.
In the immortal words of Lee Iacocca, American automobile executive, “In a completely rational society, the best of us would be teachers and the rest of us would have to settle for something less.” Please join us in once again making teaching the noblest of professions and encouraging our young people to join in our quest to make our educational system in Arizona the best it can be.
-Dr. Lily Matos DeBlieux is superintendent of the Pendergast School District