It’s a problem that has been years in the making. Arizona’s current teacher shortage is unlike any the education community has seen before, and experts suspect that it will get worse before it gets better.
Every school wants each classroom led by a highly qualified educator. But that has become more challenging than ever. According to an August survey by the Arizona School Personnel Administrators Association (ASPAA), there were more than 8,000 teaching positions that needed to be filled for the 2016-17 school year. A few weeks after classes had started, close to 50 percent of those openings hadn’t been filled at all or were staffed by professionals who do not meet standard teacher requirements. To make matters worse, close to 500 teachers either did not report to work at all or abruptly resigned within the first few weeks of school.
Expect More Arizona has heard from a number of our district, charter and community partners across the state on this issue. We’ve compiled some of their views and ways of addressing the teacher shortage below.
Ajo Unified School District
This is a huge concern for our district. We feel compelled to place the best teachers with our students, but our rural location makes that challenging. To help in the recruitment process, we began seeking teachers internationally about 10 years ago. Our recruits have come from all over the world, including the Philippines, South Africa, Jamaica, Mexico and India. Their unique perspectives and experiences are a welcome addition to our classrooms. Unfortunately, we’re still losing teachers to other states, where they can dramatically increase their salary. Teacher pay is still the biggest barrier to putting quality teachers in every classroom.
Colorado River Schools
Only five years ago, we would have upwards of a hundred applications for the positions we advertised. Over the past few years, those numbers have diminished to only a small handful of applicants, and sometimes none at all. It’s a topic that dominates every administration office in the district.
To combat the problem we’ve created a “Grow Your Own” partnership with Northern Arizona University, which puts an NAU team member in our schools to take prospective teachers by the hand and help them complete the program so that they are able to go to work right here in our schools. We’ve also recruited internationally and are working to find local team members who could complete the “intern certification” program to become a teacher.
Our major barriers to hiring include geography and compensation. Our proximity to the Nevada and California borders mean that teachers can make an additional $10,000-$20,000 with a short drive to a neighboring state. Our rural location and the warm climate are also challenges, particularly for out-of-state recruits.
iTeach at Arizona State University
To help stem the teacher shortage by better preparing prospective teachers, Arizona State University’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College has pioneered iTeachAZ, a new model for teacher preparation that provides greater clinical experience through intensive student teaching experiences. Through partnerships with 26 school districts around the Valley, we’re giving college seniors an entire year in a classroom, providing hands-on, real-world experience. After only a few years, iTeachAZ is already making a difference. In fact, it has been so successful that more than 150 other institutions have reached out for help. You can read more here.
Mesa Public Schools
Both teacher recruitment and teacher retention are becoming significantly challenging, due primarily to a growing teacher shortage. Fewer educators are entering the profession and those already teaching have many more choices than they have in the past. We’re revamping our application and hiring processes to make it simpler and to be more competitive with neighboring districts. That said, we’re still up against major barriers including teacher pay, the expense of earning a teaching degree, and a diminishing pipeline of prospective teachers. These are all amplified due to our size; as one of the largest school districts in the state, we have that many more positions to fill.
Nogales Unified School District
Long before it was identified as a “crisis” in more metropolitan areas, teacher recruitment was an issue for our rural district. Retention is less of an issue, as once we are able to find someone who is a good fit with our district, they do tend to stay. But beyond our location, teacher pay is always a concern. We do our best to keep salaries competitive and provide full medical and dental benefits as a supplement, but more funding is needed to continue to increase teacher pay so that people are encouraged to enter and remain in the profession.
To mitigate these challenges, we’ve used grant funding and recently secured dollars to include an annual signing incentive. When we attend the local job fair, we bring together our post-secondary partners to provide information about certification programs for those who are not certified but might be viable candidates for a position. We have also worked with current and potential employees to share how their college debt can be reduced.
Patagonia High School
Patagonia High School faces many of the same challenges as other rural schools. We’ve made great academic strides thanks to the hard work of our dedicated educators. We have employed some creative methods to aid in their quest for student learning, including seeking out experienced teachers. And because the district doesn’t often have the chance to raise teacher pay, we’re converting a former school into affordable housing. You can read more here.
Pendergast Elementary School District
Teacher recruitment and retention is a major challenge. It has become a year-long effort. Additional funding would make the effort more fruitful, particularly if we had funds to increase teachers salaries and for teacher support and professional development. To find educators, we have recruited out-of-state, and have even looked across international borders. We’ve partnered with ASU’s iTeach program as a way to grow our own future teachers and our foundation helps fund scholarships for iTeach students to encourage them to stay and teach in our district when they graduate.
Phoenix Collegiate Academy
Having quality teachers is the single largest factor in determining whether we will meet our annual student achievement goals. It’s what our leadership team spends the most time on and we’ve employed varied strategies to find candidates, including increasing salaries. Unfortunately, budgets don’t always allow for salary increases and the candidate pool continues to dwindle. The work of educating students in a low-income community is especially challenging and state resources do not reflect the unique needs of low-income communities.
Quartzsite Elementary School District
Our rural community and proximity to California make teacher recruitment and retention huge issues for our district. Housing for teachers is also a challenge, as there are few options for families. It is hard to attract young teachers when there isn’t much to offer them, such as entertainment and shopping. But the largest barrier is salary. Educators can drive an extra ten minutes to cross the border and get a $30,000 raise. We work to recruit from Arizona and abroad, and have had some success with the Troops for Teachers program.
Teachers in Industry
Aimed at retaining more STEM teachers in Arizona, Tucson Values Teachers and
the University of Arizona College of Education forged a partnership to create the Teachers in Industry program. Participants are able to integrate paid summer industry work experiences together with either a focused Master’s of Arts in Teaching and Teacher Education or professional development credits. Teachers work in temporary paid summer positions utilizing their STEM skills and then learn how to translate their immersive industry experience back to their students. With classrooms in Tucson, Phoenix, Yuma and distance access for teachers in rural areas, Teachers in Industry is open to all Arizona STEM teachers.
Telesis Preparatory Academy
Recruiting teachers is a big challenge throughout the school year, but we find ourselves really scrambling to find teachers during the summer, as many move out of state or to larger communities to get a raise.
Hiring is competitive in our small market, and the lack of qualified candidates means we often hire people who have extensive knowledge of their subject matter (such as math or science), but little to no experience in classroom management. This leads to high turnover, as newly hired teachers realize they’re not prepared or well-fitted to teaching.
Vail School District
Finding quality teachers is a huge challenge for our district. Even keeping a pipeline of quality prospects to fill last-minute openings and newly added positions is a struggle. Openings are often filled with new, less-experienced teachers, which puts strain on teaching teams, school leadership, and ultimately impacts classroom management. A lack of funding to offer competitive teacher pay and the availability of higher paid teaching jobs out of state – along with other industries – all play a role in our ability to hire experience educators.
In addition to widely varied recruitment strategies and flexible employment opportunities, we offer recruitment and referral incentives, and work to identify support staff and new substitute teachers who have skills and passion to enter education so that we can “grow our own.”
Williams Unified School District
This year’s lack of job applicants is unlike anything we’ve seen in the past. In Williams, we’re lucky due to our proximity to Flagstaff, since quite a few of our teachers can commute from there. Other surrounding communities really suffer with their lack of applicants, which is a particularly challenging problem for rural districts. Even in Williams, I know that any opening we have could possibly be left open because we have no applicants. To compete with higher salaries elsewhere, we’ve implemented a four-day week.
Yuma Union High School District
We know it’s not a problem unique to Yuma, but teacher recruitment and retention are both major issues for our district. And it becomes more challenging each year. There is a lack of students going into the colleges of education and Yuma’s rural location makes it even more challenging to attract qualified talent, even though we strive to be a great place to work. To help find new teachers, we’ve offered relocation stipends and reimbursements for teaching certification tests. We were even able to give existing teachers a raise after the passage of Prop 123. We’re also partnering with community groups to showcase the benefits of living in Yuma County and we’re working with the Chamber of Commerce to create a program that will allow educators to supplement their incomes when class isn’t in session.
Among elementary school teachers in Arizona, the median salary is $40,590. That puts our educators very close to the bottom in the U.S. and among the lowest paid professions for college-educated adults. Teacher pay is one of the key indicators that a comprehensive group of statewide stakeholders has identified as a critical indicator of the health of our school system and it’s one of the most important education issues to Arizona voters, second only to increased education funding.
If it’s an issue that is important to you, make your voice heard. Contact your state legislators and let them know that you want to see change.