The challenges of staying a teacher in Arizona

By Olivia Schanafelt/El Inde

Kyle Shillingburg, a senior at Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona, is studying early elementary education. He is 21 years old, freakishly tall and sweet-natured.

Shillingburg works at Kyrene de los Lagos Elementary School, Monday through Thursday, and remains there for the entirety of the school day. His day consists of helping the classroom teacher, giving lesson plans and making sure the students have the necessary learning tools.  

Most of the requirements made by the ASU education program are that the students must attend a school and eventually teach the entire day. At the beginning of his journey, Shillingburg was just required to help and assist the teacher, but now as a senior, he is expected to teach the whole day. 

He was placed in a second grade class that has 23 kids, compared to the other classrooms at Kyrene de los Lagos that have 26 students. That may seem like a large class size, but Shillingburg has seen worse over the past 4 years. 

“It’s been up to like 32, like 35 before … But we have 23, so it’s kind of nice that kids get more small groups or even one on-ones with the teachers,” Shillingburg says.

Everyday in Arizona, kids ranging in age suffer due to the decreasing number of teachers present in the classroom. Kids should show up to school happy to learn and achieve their goals, yet this is not the case in many schools in Arizona.

Many of them are having to combine classrooms that are way too big to spread the teachers out. Studies have shown that students and young kids learn better with more of a one-on-one type of learning style. With the growing number of classrooms, it would be impossible for these students to learn effectively without the extra attention.

Both Arizona State University and the University of Arizona have colleges of education that prepare and teach students to become teachers after graduation. With both of these colleges offering education degrees: Why are these graduates not staying in Arizona?

 After he graduates from Arizona State University, Shillingburg is planning on  staying in the state, even though Shillingburg does not feel like the compensation for teachers matches the hard work they dedicate here everyday.

“People say (teaching) is only a nine, ten-month job because you get summer breaks and all that. But it is more than a 40-hour job,” Shillingburg says. He gets around $200 a month for his full-time job and thinks his wages should be much higher, considering how much time he puts into helping his students.

For some teachers, it can be hard to look past the job they are passionate about when the salary is hard to live off of. Given these average salaries, and the fact that they are off in the summers, it can be hard for teachers to not want to go elsewhere.

Suzanne West, 45, was a long-term substitute teacher before accepting a full time job as a teacher’s assistant in Phoenix. West is a mom of three and decided to go back to work once her kids were grown up. She worked for a few years as a substitute, but once her kids graduated, she wanted a more permanent job. West currently works at Copper Canyon Elementary School in Phoenix, in a special needs classroom.

A person can become a substitute teacher and a full-time teacher without having a degree in education. For most people, this can be a shocking discovery. The requirements to become a substitute teacher, West says, are lower than she’d imagined. 

“You basically need a pulse (to be a substitute teacher),” she says. “When I applied for my substitute certificate, I had to send in my degree, a $60 check and they stamp it and you have your sub certificate. That’s it.”

West has stayed in Arizona because she loves to make a difference here — something she has already seen through these children she helps. She stays despite the challenges, for the same reason most other teachers do: She would love to influence as many kids as she can, in a positive way. 

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