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Arizona teachers quit: low pay, little support, politicization of education

There is a teacher shortage in Arizona and the outlook for next fall is not rosy.

According to ABC News, “29.7% of teaching positions across the state remain vacant.”

There is a growing consensus that students and many people already working in the teaching profession neither wish to continue nor pursue the teaching profession.

An NPR report states that an investigation states: “The combination of low pay, a strong economy, bitter political views and burnout due to the pandemic has not only driven some teachers out of the profession, but also discouraged some new teachers from entering the profession.”

A study by ASU's Morrison Institute for Public Policy reportedly surveyed 8,000 current educators, 700 former educators (including 16 former teachers who left the profession in the past three years), and 900 education support workers. The survey found that 70% of respondents had considered leaving the profession in the past year.

92% of respondents said they continue teaching because they feel like they are making a difference in their students' lives. Most teachers are unhappy with their pay and other aspects of teaching that have always drawn people into the profession.

According to the Governor's Office, the average salary for a K-12 teacher in Arizona in 2022 was $56,775, about $10,000 below the national average.

Lynn Richards is an elementary school teacher in Glendale and told Northeast Valley News, “Teaching should be respected, but instead teachers are often on the front lines of scorn, criticism and even abuse from parents – and the pay – there is no way anyone can continue to stay in this toxic climate for what they pay us. I love my students, but every year it gets harder to deal with. I can make just as much in another profession without the stress of an increasingly stressful environment.”

In addition to the miserable pay, the dwindling support from parents and administrators is depressing and the politicization of education is exhausting, the teachers told Northeast Valley News.

“One teacher told Northeast Valley News, “We literally had teachers union representatives at parent-teacher meetings because the political climate had become so threatening.”

A marketing teacher at Horizon High School in Phoenix told Northeast Valley News that it's not surprising that the low demand for the profession is due to salaries.

“Unfortunately, teacher salaries in the United States have never increased with inflation, and so today in some states, particularly here in Arizona, there are very poor salaries for a very demanding position,” Palmieri said.

Educators often do not have the best working environments and lack administrative support.

“Sometimes they lose sight of the importance of building relationships with the teachers themselves. Teachers are very committed to their students, but they get a little lost within the organization because the administrative team is focused on pleasing the district and they really don't have enough time to engage with the teachers and create a culture where teachers want to stay, even if they have a difficult job,” Palmieri said.

The educators’ union has a lot of work ahead of it.

AEA or Arizona Education Association is a 140-year-old organization that is a state affiliate of the National Education Association.

The organization's Arizona president, Marisol Garcia, told Northeast Valley News, “Our fundamental motto is 'Ensuring a quality education for every student.'”

The AEA is governed by a representative democracy.

“We are one of the few member-driven organizations in the state, so all of our work is based on the wants and needs of the members,” Garcia said.

So how does the AEA actually support teachers in Arizona?

“At the district level, we attend school board meetings. We have over 140 chapters across the state that do the same things. They negotiate their salary, they negotiate everything from making sure we have better textbooks or more staff or smaller class sizes. And when you extend that to the state level, we get involved not only at the policy level in the legislature, but with the governor, the Arizona Department of Education and then the State Board of Education,” Garcia said.

While the union plays an important role in negotiating and representing teachers, it is also important that parents and the wider public understand the challenges teachers face. Support for educators has declined overall and this general lack of support is a major reason for the shrinking teacher population.

The teaching profession is no longer largely respected today.

Bitter political views and extreme ideological views have entered classrooms and curricula, contributing to the decline of a once inspiring profession. Some teachers simply conclude that it is no longer worth it.

Although Palmieri is aware of these challenges, he and other educators remain loyal to the profession because of their own priorities.

“The reason many teachers continue to teach despite low pay and perhaps a not so appealing corporate culture is the students, the engagement, building a relationship with the students in the classroom and having a very intense and good instructional design with the students. That's what keeps most teachers going,” Palmieri said.

Anna Harden

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