While Arizona teachers overwhelmingly derive satisfaction from making a positive difference in children’s lives, a majority are dissatisfied with pay and report using their own money for classroom supplies, student incentives, and students’ personal needs, according to two recent teacher surveys.
“I think it’s really a wake-up call to the region, the nation and the state,” said Jacquelyn Jackson, director of Tucson Values Teachers. “We know that people love to be teachers. They go into it because they care about kids, but they also shouldn’t have to take a vow of poverty.”
Scholastic Inc. and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s Primary Sources: America’s Teachers on Teaching in an Era of Change, released in late February, surveyed 20,157 teachers nationwide, including 345 Arizona teachers. Tucson Values Teachers heard from 1,644 Pima County district, private and charter teachers in its 2013 Teacher Workforce Survey released in late October.
Arizona teachers said in the Primary Sources survey they make a difference in children’s lives (87 percent), help students reach their full potential (76 percent), share their love of learning and teaching with others (74 percent), and experience students’ “a ha!” moments (69 percent).
In the Tucson Values Teachers survey, Pima County teachers said the joy of teaching (71 percent), working with children (70 percent), and helping people (63 percent) drew them to their profession.
“Teachers’ social and civic calling to the greater purpose of making a difference in a child’s life is both commendable and a recipe for their success,” said Tim Ham, superintendent of the Madison Elementary School District in Phoenix.
It may not be enough to keep them in the profession. A quarter of Pima County teachers said in the Tucson survey that they don’t see themselves teaching in Southern Arizona five years from now, and 86 percent were somewhat or not likely to recommend their profession to others.
Those results have led Tucson Values Teachers to hold a meeting March 7 of business leaders, school superintendents, and some Southern Arizona Leadership Council P-20 members to create goals to increase teacher recruitment and retention in the region, Jackson said.
“I think the most concerning item we’re looking at is you have teachers saying they’re not going to recommend this profession to others,” Jackson said. “A main reason people become teachers is that they had a teacher who loved it, or a sister who was a teacher, or an uncle who taught and said this is a great field, but they’re not saying that now.”
The Tucson Values Teachers survey identified reasons for that, such as working an average 60 hours a week when including preparation for classroom instruction, grading and other required duties, Jackson said.
“Teachers also reported spending $1,142 dollars of their own money on classroom supplies, professional development, student incentives and coats and shoes for kids who are at the poverty level,” Jackson said. “In this state, too, teachers are on the front lines of that.”
More than 30 percent have jobs outside of teaching for additional income and that also may be a factor in teachers’ decisions to leave the profession, according to the Tucson survey.
Teachers voiced concerns in the Primary Sources survey about constantly changing demands on students and themselves (83 percent), large class sizes (62 percent), having students who need help or intervention for social, emotional or behavioral challenges (99 percent), and student reading levels that span four or more grades in a single classroom (77 percent).
School leaders are becoming more creative to meet these demands because adequate resources “just aren’t provided,” Ham said.
“At Madison, one of the ways we’ve done this is by restructuring kindergarten to compensate for the loss of full-day funding, while still enhancing literacy instruction in early grades,” Ham said. “I’ve seen a lot of creative solutions from many districts throughout the state, but, sadly, other than some additional money to support ‘Move on When Reading’ legislation, there really hasn’t been any financial support from the state for much needed interventions.”
“When you couple this with the 22 percent reduction in funding during the course of the Great Recession, it isn’t surprising that teachers have concerns about class size, behavioral challenges, reading supports, and other interventions,” Ham said.
While 87 percent of Arizona teachers said they are satisfied with their profession in the Primary Sources survey, just 31 percent of Pima County teachers said they are in the Tucson survey.
Teachers are more likely to say they are very satisfied in their profession when they feel their voices are heard, according to Primary Sources. In Arizona, 75 percent of teachers feel their voices are heard at their schools, 33 percent at the district level, and just 4 percent at the state or national level, according to Primary Sources.
Teaching is an “incredibly difficult profession” these days, making it hard to attract and retain teachers, Jackson said.
“I think it’s really critical that business leaders and educators join forces,” Jackson said. “It’s not just a superintendents’ problem. It’s a huge economic issue for the region and the state, and we need to take it on like that. There’s so much concern about STEM workforce, but if you don’t have teachers, then you don’t have any workforce.”
The March 7 meeting of Pima County business, education and civic leaders to address ways to recruit and retain teachers will be limited to “40 people so we can have real conversations,” Jackson said.
“It’s very much structured to drive action,” Jackson said. “It’s what do we do – not let’s talk about this again – who’s going to do what, what’s the timeline, how much do they cost, and let’s get them done.”
The group plans for several follow-ups to this initial meeting to track progress on their goals, Jackson said.
Ham said that right now, universities are not producing enough teachers to fill available positions, so they are working on ways to attract students to their teaching programs; however, demand will outstrip supply soon because of the time it takes to complete the program.
“One of their greatest challenges is to attract quality candidates to work in a public education system that is constantly under fire and underfunded,” Ham said.
With a shortage of teachers looming on the horizon, “we really need to question the constant stream of attacks on the teaching profession,” Ham said.
“Most parents would tell you that they appreciate the great job that their child’s teacher does every day, yet we are constantly barraged by messages that our schools and teachers are inadequate,” Ham said.
“There is a disconnect here between voters and those who represent them, and it is likely connected to political agendas and an active resistance to properly funding public education,” Ham said.