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AZ Teacher of the Year nominees discuss the rewards and challenges of public education (+ Video)


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  • Lauren Negrete/Arizona Education News Service

Amy Ball, A Kindergarten Teacher, And Her Students During Circle Time At Madison Traditional Academy In Madison Elementary School District In Phoenix. Photo By Lauren Negrete/Arizona Education News Service

UPDATE 11/7/17: Josh Meibos was named Arizona Teacher of the Year 2018.

Disbelief, excitement, nervousness and some tears. Those are among the words five Arizona teachers use to describe their reaction to opening up the email that declared them “Ambassadors for Excellence” – the top five nominees for 2018 Arizona Teacher of the Year Award.

Whether or not they are named Teacher of the Year, all five will represent their profession and carry out important duties as Ambassadors for Excellence in the year ahead through the Arizona Educational Foundation, which sponsors the Teacher of the Year award.

AZ Teacher of the Year nominees discuss the rewards and challenges of public education (+ Video) JoshuaMeibosAndStudents

Arizona Teacher of the Year 2018 Joshua Meibos with his students during class. Photo by Lauren Negrete/AZEdNews

Joshua Meibos, a physical education teacher for grades K-6 at David Crockett Elementary School in Balsz Elementary School District in Phoenix, said he initially was uneasy with the title, but deeply appreciates the honor and the chance it gives him to speak about educators’ concerns.

“It’s an opportunity to advocate for my field, physical education, for men in elementary teaching roles and the overall current climate of teaching in Arizona,” Meibos said.

Video: 2018 AZ Teacher of the Year finalists by Lauren Negrete/AZEdNews


For Amy Ball, a kindergarten teacher at Madison Traditional Academy in Madison Elementary School District in Phoenix, the news led to her “crying so hard, but it was obviously tears of joy.”

“Teachers don’t get recognized, and to have that feeling that someone noticed me, it just made me feel like a million bucks,” Ball said.

Arizona’s Top 10 Teachers will be honored and one of the five Ambassadors for Excellence will be named the 2018 Arizona Teacher of the Year at an awards luncheon on Nov. 7 at the Arizona Grand Resort. The winner will be in the running for National Teacher of the Year. Tickets to the luncheon are $60 each and may be purchased through the Arizona Educational Foundation.

Caring and connecting

Good teachers are more than just masters of their content areas, said Justean Palmer, a fifth-grade math teacher at Canyon Ridge School in Dysart Unified School District in Surprise.

“You have to have a love and passion for what you do,” Palmer said. “I absolutely love the subject I teach – math – but more than that, you need to build a relationship with the students. You need to make sure that they know you care.”

It’s also about tuning in to what students need, and how they learn in today’s digital environment, Palmer said. Going page-by-page straight out of the text book does not resonate with students, she said.

Connecting real-life situations with what they’re learning in the classroom is key, Palmer said.

“Needing to know how to balance a checkbook – that’s a life skill – and that’s what I teach in my classroom,” Palmer said. “That’s adding and subtracting with decimals.”

Challenges

While teaching provides many intrinsic rewards, there are a number of challenges educators deal with every day.

Arizona’s low national ranking in teacher pay and working conditions that are “unacceptable” are two of the greatest challenges to teaching here, Meibos said.

“It’s not just 180-school days, there are teachers out there that work all year-round teaching and planning, and I think that needs to be recognized and valued,” Meibos said.

The median pay for Arizona elementary teachers averages about $42,474, which ranks 50th in the nation, while the median salary for high school teachers is about $47,890, coming in at 49th in the nation.

Ball said teacher pay is also a concern and if she were to be named teacher of the year, she would put the prize money toward her retirement, “because there’s not a lot of wiggle room when you’re a teacher, so I’d want to put that away.”

Other challenges include finding enough time and collaborating with other teachers, said Erica Davis, who teaches senior English and Advanced Placement Literature at Basha High School in Chandler Unified School District.

“The change would have to be in the scheduling, in understanding it’s the quality of what we do in our classrooms and not how many hours we’re doing it and really just making people aware of that,” Davis said.

Also, there are areas that social studies and English teachers could partner on.

“We don’t have that collaboration ability, because there’s just not enough time in people’s days, so I would love to see extracurricular and cross curricular, not-just-in-your-single subject collaboration,” Davis said.

Also, there should be more collaboration between middle and high school teachers, Davis said.

“We spend our entire four years of high school trying to prepare our students for college, so I feel like there needs to be more communication with the junior highs who can prepare students for high school and then some of those skill bases would be more solidified,” Davis said.

School A-F accountability grades and the stigma that goes along with them are also a challenge, said Allison Davis, who teaches kindergarten at Knox Gifted Academy in the Chandler Unified School District.

“Once we decide that one school is doing better than another, because of just test scores, that’s hard,” Davis said. “Rather than looking at the school and what they offer the kids and what they’re doing to really make the kids succeed.”

Instead, the focus should be on learning that encourages and builds students’ creativity, Davis said.

“We’re working on social-emotional (growth), and trying to enrich the lives of the students that we have at our school,” Davis said.

Davis’ comments reinforced results of the 49th Annual Phi Delta Kappan Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools, in which 49 percent of Americans said test scores do not measure things about their children’s public school education that are most important to them personally.

Letting teachers’ voices be heard

The Arizona Teacher of the Year and the Ambassadors for Excellence share the key role education plays in all aspects of life in this state and how essential teachers are to that.
It’s important to celebrate the great teachers across Arizona working to ensure the success of their students, said Allison Davis.

“I want to really show the state of Arizona, our government and the community what teachers give every day, how important education is and the amazing things that are happening in classrooms throughout our community and throughout our state,” Ball said.

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