Pay teachers more and provide support or they’ll keep quitting 

Teachers in Arizona are leaving the profession because of low pay, a lack of support from administrators and burnout. 

In September, a month or so into the current school year, at least 2,229 teaching positions in Arizona were vacant and another 3,997 were occupied by teachers who weren’t fully credentialed. 

Gov. Katie Hobbs’ Educator Retention Task Force aims to help fix that with the announcement Tuesday of 11 recommendations, developed by the 19 members of the task force, which includes teachers from across the state. The members included a teacher in a tribal area, as well as an educator who recently left the profession. 

Lynette Stant, a task force member and third grade teacher at Salt River Elementary School on the Salt River Pima–Maricopa Indian Community, said that she works 12 hours each day, staying until 7 p.m. to do paperwork each night before a 40-minute commute home. 

During her time as a 2020 teacher of the year, Stant visited the classrooms of five other teachers. Four of them have since left the profession, and one is making more money working as a nanny than she did as a kindergarten teacher, Stant said. 

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Hobbs announced during Tuesday’s meeting a plan to put $2 million into expanding the Arizona K-12 Center at Northern Arizona University to supply mentors to new teachers, but said that it would take collaboration among her office, state lawmakers and other stakeholders to make the other recommended changes happen. 

“None of these proposals should be politicized,” Hobbs said. 

She said she was confident that her office and the legislature could find consensus, but she’ll likely have a hard road ahead getting the Republican-controlled legislature on board with any large increases in school funding. 

A study conducted for the task force by ASU’s Morrison Institute for Public Policy surveyed 8,000 current educators, 700 former educators (including 16 former teachers who left in the past three years) and 900 education support staff. The survey found that 70% of respondents had considered leaving the profession within the past year. 

While 92% said they continued teaching because they feel like they make a difference in their students’ lives, most teachers are not happy with their pay. 

As of 2022, the average pay for an Arizona K-12 teacher was $56,775, about $10,000 less than the national average, according to the Governor’s Office. 

“They’re frustrated that they’re not being compensated for duties outside of contracted hours,” said Allison Cook-Davis, a representative of the Morrison Institute. 

Around 75% of teachers told the Morrison Institute that schools lacked adequate support for teachers and students and that they didn’t feel supported by state education policies. 

Teachers who answered the survey said that a lack of funding impacts day-to-day life in their classrooms and that the state had implemented policies that aren’t good for students, like English-only instruction for students learning the language. 

While Cook-Davis shared highlights from the survey, she said the full report won’t be available until this spring. 

The 11 recommendations are: 

  • Create an educator advisory group to help the governor’s office stay updated on what’s happening in education right now and to provide feedback. 
  • Increase salaries and benefits for teachers and other school staff, which was a top issue for those who responded to the survey. 

“I’ve seen colleagues, brilliant and passionate educators, facing the daunting choice of leaving a profession they love due to financial concerns,” said Luisa Arreola, a task force member and  teacher at San Luis Middle School. They are driving two hours one-way to neighboring states to get better compensation.

  • Reduce the cost of health insurance. Some teachers reported that they had to cut spending on things like food and clothing to pay their health care premiums and other out-of-pocket costs. 
  • Provide teachers and other school personnel with 12 weeks of paid personal leave for birth, adoption or fostering a child, in alignment with what’s typical in the private sector. 

Task force member Sarah Tolar, a teacher who recently left the profession, said that as a young teacher she saved up four weeks of paid time off when she had her first child, and took two more unpaid weeks. She didn’t have time to save up time off for her second child, so her time off for maternity leave was almost entirely unpaid. 

  • Ensure that teachers know their options for student loan forgiveness. Some teachers might unintentionally enter into the wrong loan forgiveness program and end up finding out that after 10 years of teaching, their loans won’t be forgiven. This might lead them to leave the profession, the task force found. 
  • Change state-level policies to improve working conditions for teachers, including reducing class sizes and workload and hiring more counselors and coaches. 

“Many teachers are overwhelmed by the number of students in their class,” said task force member Melissa Sardoff, the superintendent of Stanfield Elementary School District. 

Sardoff said she recently spoke to a Phoenix teacher who has more than 40 students in her classroom. She added that many teachers are also shouldering the burden of helping their students deal with emotional issues because of a lack of mental health resources. 

“I’ve seen teachers’ passion dwindle under the weight of untenable conditions,” Sardoff said. 

  • Convene partners to expand innovative models that support teachers as professionals and redesign the delivery of instruction to help all students succeed. This could include learning from schools that have made these changes and improved retention rates. 
  • Work to develop stronger school leadership, including giving teachers better pathways to leadership. 
  • Expand funding for statewide mentoring programs using the Arizona Beginning Teacher Induction Program Standards. 
  • Ask the Arizona State Board of Education to conduct a study analyzing teacher retention rates, and comparing those for the various pathways to becoming a teacher. 

“Teachers who enter the profession through high quality programs are more likely to stay in the classroom,” said task force member Jennifer Gresko, faculty chair of educator preparation programs at Rio Salado College.

  • Ask the State Board of Education to determine the data necessary to evaluate the state of the teacher workforce in Arizona and ensure that data is collected and analyzed annually. Justin Wing, task force member and assistant superintendent of human resources, at Mesa Public Schools, said that the state needs data to drive decisions, just like it asks teachers and administrators to do. 

The task force was convened by one of Hobbs’ executive orders in February and has met seven times this year. 

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