Linda Valdez: Until Arizona starts giving teachers the respect they deserve, we might as well just forget about teaching all together.
Would you advise your child to become a teacher?
I wouldn't recommend it.
The pay is lousy. You get little respect. You work in a field that is being systematically sabotaged by powerful politicians.
Yet my husband is an elementary teacher in a Tucson public school, and I’m glad he’s there. For nearly two decades, he has made a difference in the lives of hundreds of children.
Teachers really do make a difference
Some of his former students are young adults now. They come up to him at restaurants or in the grocery story to tell about their lives and say “thank you.” Their respect borders on reverence.
He’s also made a difference in the lives of families in the low-income areas where he teaches.
He empowers parents – many of them non-English speaking – to get involved in the school and stand up for their children.
In his class, children learn to work together as a team while focusing independently on their own lessons. There’s no bullying allowed. No name calling. No disrespect.
He prepares them well. They get good scores on state mandated tests.
Why does that impact get no respect?
I’m very proud of what he does. Teachers do heroic work, and he’s one of the best.
He and all the other good teachers should be well paid and highly regarded in our society.
But they aren’t.
My husband teaches in low-income areas. He says that's his mission. The people he serves have little political clout.
But a lot of big-shot professionals (who can read and write because of teachers) send their children to "nice" schools in neighborhoods where the teachers could never afford to buy a house. These folks have political clout.
Why don't they care that the people educating their precious kids have been turned into second-class professionals?
This isn't just a shortage. It's a crisis.
Teacher shortages haven’t translated into higher pay because tightwad lawmakers keep school budgets so low that salaries can’t go up.
In 2014, Arizona ranked 48th in average per pupil spending. Our teacher salaries are well below the national average.
This year, lawmakers approved a budget with a 2 percent raise spread over two years. Gee. Thanks.
An analysis of data from 162 school districts by The Republic found that 22 percent of those teaching lacked full qualifications to be in the classroom. Two thousand of them lacked formal teacher training and dozens lacked a college degree, The Republic’s Ricardo Cano wrote.
The data represented about 80 percent of Arizona’s 1.1 million public school students in 2016-17.
Schools say “Help Wanted.” Nobody comes.
That’s not a teacher shortage. That’s a crisis.
Not just anyone can be a (good) teacher
The conservative lawmakers responsible for the appalling gaps in school funding continue diverting resources and respect to so-called “parental choice” options, AKA private schools.
But public schools are the choice of the majority of the state’s parents.
The profession to which my husband devotes many evenings, weekends and considerable amounts of his own money is being de-professionalized in the state we love.
In response to the teacher shortage, Arizona passed a law this year that allows people with no teacher training to get a standard teaching credential if they have “relevant work experience.”
Let's be clear: I agree with those who say colleges of education spend too much time on theories and pedagogical nonsense – like that whole language malarkey. (Phonics rules!)
But there is more to teaching than walking in off the street. There’s child development, classroom management, best educational practices.
Kids are more than miniature adults. Teachers need to understand how a child’s mind works and absorbs information.
You helped devalue this profession
Instead of acknowledging the challenges and skills needed to do the job well, we starve public schools, underpay teachers and de-professionalize teaching.
Blame the politicians? Too easy.
Look in the mirror. The public elects these guys.
So this teacher’s wife says forget teaching.
It may be the most important job in our society. It offers immense personal rewards. But we've given control of the state to people who don't value teachers or public schools.