I don’t pay the price for Arizona’s still-too-low teacher pay. My students do

Arizona is in the midst of a teacher shortage. Many schools and students are grappling with the consequences. What’s behind the shortage? Republic reporter Ricardo Cano explains in this episode of azcentral Rewind.

Opinion: Teachers can leave the profession – and many still are, despite a recent raise. But students can’t leave their classrooms.

This is my 27th year as a teacher.

I have bachelor’s and master’s degrees, but I make less money than my 25-year-old son, whose job only requires a bachelor’s degree. I’ve been teaching for longer than he’s been alive, but he makes more. If he stays with this job, in seven years he will be making 150 percent of what I make.

I’m talking about this not to cast resentment on my son or on his job (I’m super proud of him!), but because folks need to understand how tough it is to stay in teaching in an underfunded system.

‘Get a different job’ solves nothing

Please don’t say, “Well, get a different job,” because that solves only my financial issues. It doesn’t solve the students’ problem of not having enough qualified teachers to teach them. If I leave for a different job, there may not be anyone to replace me, because – remember – Arizona already can’t find certified teachers to fill the 5,601 existing teacher vacancies.

In fact, “about 23 percent of teacher vacancies across the state this year still remain unfilled, and more than half the vacancies are filled by teachers who do not meet the state’s standard teacher certification requirements” (Arizona School Personnel Administrators Association, 12/12/18).

Students pay the price for that, not teachers, because teachers can indeed leave the profession. Students can’t.

They are the ones stuck in classes that are too large because there aren’t enough teachers. They are the ones who don’t get the individual attention they need and deserve because their teacher has 170 other students who also have needs —cumulatively, thousands of needs.

Students pay the price for the teacher shortage.

Neither does ‘you knew what to expect’

And please don’t say, “You knew what you were getting into when you chose to be a teacher,” because that’s simply not true. As a bright-eyed college student, I knew teaching would not make me rich, but there were pay scales that showed what I could expect to make in the future.

Consider ASU’s calculation that a high-school teacher with a bachelor of arts degree would start at $59,000 (which is far more than I currently make). Even looking at the pay schedules from when I first started teaching, I should be earning roughly $12,000 more per year now than I do. But years of inadequate funding from our Legislature have forced school districts to intermittently “freeze” teachers’ pay — and this has been happening for many years.

In Arizona, we have a teacher shortage of crisis proportions, with 913.5 teachers who left the profession within the first half of THIS school year. This teacher-shortage crisis is not new and, in fact, it is getting worse. Even Ducey’s 20×2020 plan will barely dent the exodus of teachers.

We must think bigger. Much bigger

To retain and attract teachers, we need to think much bigger than that. I’m guessing it will take a pay raise of $10,000 to $20,000, but we won’t know exactly how much we need to pay teachers until we create a competitive market and can actually start retaining teachers.

I hope we do it soon, because I am tired of watching students suffer the consequences of Arizona’s teacher shortage. We all should be tired of it.

I love teaching. I may leave the profession in the next few years, but I certainly don’t want to leave. It will depend on how long I am willing to tolerate being under financial strain. And whether I leave or not, students will still be there, needing qualified teachers.

That’s why it’s difficult to leave, but impossible to stay.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: