Passion keeps teachers in the classroom

Daniel Johnson helps a student with his work at Hollinger K-8 in Tucson, AZ. (Photo by: Bria Fonteno / Arizona Sonora News)

As Arizona schools struggle with fixing problems in the education system, having committed and passionate teachers may be the start to a solution.

“I teach because I love what I do. I still remember the positive role models I had that now influence my role in education,” said Daniel Johnson.

Johnson, 28, has been working in the education system for five years.

“I wanted to support kids with special needs and give back to the community,” said Johnson.

He started volunteering at schools where he fell in love with working in small groups. Johnson eventually left special education because he spent more time putting information in the computer, and less time helping the kids.

“I was overwhelmed, and that’s when I left my second job,” said Johnson.

Johnson says that more people would stay in the profession if they knew the facts before committing.

“Get an awesome mentor, be open to criticism, and find coworkers you can drink with after work,” said Johnson.

Johnson has been in working in Tucson, AZ at Hollinger K-8 for three and a half years and is now the in-school interventionist, where he does behavioral and academic interventions with students.

He is passionate about his students and doesn’t plan to leave to leave teaching anytime soon.

“No one wants to be a teacher for the money. Teaching is a passion and something that people do because it’s what they love,” said Johnson.

Johnson says that teaching has long been viewed as a low-paying job, and many teachers opt out of out of benefits altogether because they lose too much on their paycheck.

In January, the Arizona School Boards Association issued an analysis of teacher salary. According to their results, the median teacher pay in 2018 is $46,949.

A graph by AZEdNews, a service of the Arizona School Boards Association, shows the 2017 national ranking for median teacher salaries compared to other neighboring states.  (Infographic by: Lisa Irish / AZEdNews)

According to data collected this year by WalletHub, compared to teacher salaries in other states, Arizona fell at the bottom ranking at 50 for ‘opportunity and competition’ and 51 for ‘academic and work environment.’

Michael Radloff, 52, is the department chair at Pima Community College.

He has been teaching for 20 years and has been the department chair at Pima for ten years.

Radloff sees issues in the education system that are pushing teachers away from the classroom.

“To make it even worse, they’ve watered down teaching standards, and teacher qualifications just to put more bodies in the classroom,” he said.

According to the National Education Association, close to 50 percent of newcomers leave the profession during their first five years of teaching.

Radloff says he believes in the profession and wants to see more effective teachers develop in the classroom.

“You have to have hope, despite the negativity going with pay, respect, and qualifications,” said Radloff.

Lori Trevino opens the door to her classroom as she anticipates her student’s arrival. (Photo by: Bria Fonteno / Arizona Sonora News)

Lori Trevino, 56, is a 7th and 8th grade English Language Arts teacher at Valencia Middle School and has been teaching for four years.

“Many of the teachers that leave don’t care about the kids,” she said.

Trevino says that teachers are leaving the profession because many aren’t getting the proper training, they receive little to respect, there’s a lack of support from the administration, and they receive low pay.

“When I first starting teaching, I made the exact amount my father made when he retired 27 years ago. That is a long time to not have any movement forward; it is hard,” said Trevino.

She began her teaching profession at Sunnyside High School and after just one year, Trevino resigned.

“I was so ready to leave that I walked around every day with my resignation in my pocket. It just needed a date,” she said.

Trevino is unhappy with the pay, but she stays because she is passionate about teaching her students.

“These kids are our future. Every career in the world starts in my class,” she said.

Trevino spends 37 to 40 hours a week with her students, sometimes even more with grading and extra-curricular activities.

“My kids are everything. Sometimes I spend more time with my students than their parents do,” she said.

Trevino uses poetry slams and games to interest her students.

She cares about the student’s education and believes that it’s important schools bring in teachers who believe in each individual student’s capability to learn.

“I teach because I get to be someone else; I get to help that ‘one.’ I realize that I can be of real service to the children and that brings me joy when I come into work, because I know I’m making a difference,” Trevino said.

Bria Fonteno is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism at the University of Arizona. Contact her at

Click here for a Word file and high-resolution photographs. 

One comment Add yours
  1. Beautiful! I wish more people got that it isn’t really the money… it is professionalism, the ability to compete in the market, the need for respect from not only the administration but the parents and public. People just don’t get it – most teachers of 10 years have as much education as a Ph.D… or the MD that you trust your life to and yet we are treated as if we are defective for choosing to teach your children. Your futures are in our hands… why discourage us? Why make it harder to teach rather than better and more effective? Why test our kids into depression and anxiety to prove that we are idiots when we obviously are not stupid or failures?

    Support your child’s teacher, it supports your child.

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