By Victoria Ariate-Jover/El Inde
Erin Garrett, a Tucson native and senior at the University of Arizona, walks into her fifth grade class ready to tackle a new day. The room is decorated with vibrant and creative student work along the walls. Garrett decorated the white board for the students’ daily assignment with different colored Expo markers.
This school year has become a new adventure for her. One day, she had a student get into a fight during their lunch hour. Another morning, she started her day by having to assist her student after he threw up and had to convince the school nurse that her student was sick.
These are only a few of the things Garrett has had to deal with as a student teacher at Donaldson Elementary School in the Amphitheater School District. Previously, Garrett was a student teacher at Sahuarita Intermediate School, yet transferred to a school in ASD because of its location, closer to home.
During the fall semester of her senior year, she spent at least two hours commuting back and forth between her parents’ house in the Catalina Foothills to Sahuarita Intermediate School. With her transfer to Donaldson, her commute is now only 20 minutes.
With her brown curly hair, large brown eyes, dimples on her cheeks and outgoing personality, Garrett has been able to find a way with children and wants to be able to make a difference in their lives. Even if it’s only for a school year.
Yet despite her love and passion for teaching, Garrett is aware of what teachers like her typically go through in the state of Arizona, which is one of the lowest states ranked in education, and also one of the lowest-paying.
“Arizona is ranked as the 48th state in terms of education. After student teaching for so long, it’s incredibly frustrating to see that teachers don’t get the recognition they deserve because we work hard all the time,” Garrett said.
However, this changed last year when the Arizona Teachers Academy scholarship was introduced to her and her cohort. With this scholarship, those who qualify will be able to receive a reimbursement from their university in exchange for teaching in the state of Arizona for a minimum of one academic school year.
The scholarship covers all tuition costs for certain teacher certification programs within the University of Arizona, such as elementary, secondary math, special, agriculture, music, art and early childhood education.
Once a student is rewarded with the scholarship, they will be refunded with the money they spent on the year they got it. In order to receive this scholarship, the applicant must agree to teach in the state of Arizona depending on how many years of funding they received.
When Garrett received the scholarship in February, she was ecstatic. The soon-to-be teacher is ready to get out of student teaching and have her own classroom. She has been collecting various school supplies and décor for her class, and has even brainstormed different activities for her future students and how her classroom will run on a daily basis.
“I’m just excited to be able to have my own classroom at this point. I want full control of how things are taught and I can’t wait to have my own students,” Garrett said.
She has already accepted a teaching job here in Tucson that she will begin prepping for after graduation. In the fall, she will be taking over a sixth-grade teaching position at Agua Caliente Elementary School, which is part of the Tanque Verde School District, one that Garrett has not worked with before. But before she can even begin to think about the following school year, she first has to complete the rest of the semester at Donaldson.
Unfortunately, this semester has been nothing like the others. Due to covid-19, all schools in Arizona have closed for the remainder of the semester in hopes of decreasing the spread of the virus. This adds some difficulty for Garrett because she now has to figure out how to transition from teaching in-person to teaching online through Google Classroom, when half of the students in her classroom don’t have access to the internet at home.
“I have been coordinating with my mentor teacher, but it’s been really hard because everything’s online and none of us has ever had to do this type of thing before,” Garrett said.
More than anything, she misses her students. At the beginning of the semester, she stressed about being able to connect with this class. As time went on, she was able to bond with each individual student through her humor. Now she hopes to discover what each student needs moving forward in order to learn.