Arizona schools still struggling to fill teaching positions

Teachers in Arizona are one of the lowest paid compared to other states, according to the Educator Recruitment and Retention task force. (Photo by: Noor Jarki)
Teachers in Arizona are one of the lowest paid compared to other states, according to the Educator Recruitment and Retention task force. (Photo by: Noor Jarki)

School districts across Arizona are scrambling to fill vacant teaching positions as disinterest in the field soars because aspiring and existing teachers are fleeing to other states where pay is higher.

During the 2014-2015 school year, 387 open teaching positions were listed in a survey carried out by the Arizona School Administrators Association. In September 2014, 74 percent of charter and district schools admitted to having one to five open teaching positions in a survey carried out by the Arizona Department of Education. These numbers have dropped from the previous academic year but Arizona is still ranked lower than other states.

During the recession in 2008, teaching became popular as the private sector stopped employing people. This brought in several unqualified and uninterested teachers to classrooms, according to Don German, executive director of the Arizona Rural School Association. Teacher shortages became an issue once the recession as over.

“As the private industry opened back up after the recession, you saw an increase in teacher positions that were unfilled beginning in 2013,” said German. “Then by the end of last year going into this school year it was at crisis stage.”

Hardest subjects to fill:

  1. Special Education
  2. Middle School Math
  3. High School Math
  4. High School Science.
  5. Middle School Science.

Public and private schools are struggling to fill in specific subject areas like special education and middle school math, according to a report from the Educator Retention and Recruitment Task Force.

Arizona is ranked 50th in the nation for educational funding and teachers are paid an average of $49, 885, much lower than California where an average teacher is paid $69,324, according to reports from the National Educational Association in September 2014.

An increased number of graduates majoring in education and active teachers are abandoning Arizona for states like California where funding for education is higher, teachers are paid more and teachers feel appreciated, according to Patricia Anders, professor at the College of Education at the University of Arizona.

“We’re seeing our students go to other states where they have more opportunities and support and where they’ll get paid more,” said Anders. “Graduates would rather work in other states than in rural areas especially when pay is low.”

Low salaries are a significant factor that has led to teacher shortages but as more people look down upon teaching as a profession, teachers begin to feel neglected by government officials. This begins to be the last straw that pushes teachers out into other careers especially since pay is no incentive.

Graduates with a degree in education are paid far less on average, according to a report from the Educator Retention and Recruitment task force. (Photo by Noor Jarki)
Graduates with a degree in education are paid far less on average, according to a report from the Educator Retention and Recruitment task force. (Graphic by Noor Jarki)

“People are becoming disgruntled with teaching because of the situation with students or increased requirements on school grades and tests,” said Kevin Davis, superintendent at Wilcox Unified School District. “Teachers then say to themselves ‘why do I have to work so hard? I’m not getting paid enough for this’ so then they leave the profession.”

Davis believes that by changing the public perception of teaching, officials will begin to realize that teachers and education in general deserves more attention and respect. This can be done by highlighting teacher’s achievements through events or during city council meetings and by increasing funding for education.

“We really need to inform the public that being a teacher is not just being a teacher,” said Davis. “They’re a mentor, a coach, a tutor, all these things get overlooked so maybe they should lend their support and try to make things better.”

The Arizona Department of Education established an Educator Recruitment and Retention task force in Fall 2014 after officials realized teacher shortages became a significant problem but teachers don’t see signs of change anytime soon.

“We’re going to have to keep working hard to build on the momentum we have right now with the state legislator and the governor, to try to educate our elected officials and our civic leaders in the need for stronger public education so we can attract more teachers,” said German.

Noor Jarki is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact her at noorjarki@email.arizona.edu. 

Click here for a Word version of this story and high-resolution photos. 

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