With some 130 classrooms in the Tucson area being led by substitute teachers who often lack professional training, there is little school districts aren’t willing to do to get qualified teachers in the door.
As of Dec. 4, 84 Arizona districts reported more than 1,200 open positions halfway through the school year. Of those, 700 had been vacated since the start of school.
While cross-country recruiting trips, signing bonuses, loan forgiveness and other incentives are worthwhile efforts, they aren’t going to solve the teacher shortage in Arizona or anywhere else, an education expert says.
“We’ve done research that have shown between 40 and 50 percent of new teachers quit within five years,” Richard Ingersoll, a University of Pennsylvania teacher retention expert, told a crowd of more than 500 Tucson educators, business leaders and community supporters Thursday. “In plain terms, there’s nothing wrong with bringing thousands of new people into teaching, but if we lose 40 to 50 percent, we not only don’t solve the problem, we lose a lot of investment.
“The problem isn’t so much that we have too few teachers coming into teaching. It’s that we have too many leaving.”
Ingersoll and Ninive Calegari, CEO and founder of the Teacher Salary Project, were in town as part of the Let’s Talk Ed: Teacher Workforce summit. It was sponsored by Raytheon, the Southern Arizona Leadership Council, Tucson Values Teachers and other community partners.
Others who spoke on retaining quality teachers and restoring respect to the profession included Arizona Board of Regents President Eileen Klein, Arizona Education Association President Andrew Morrill, Expect More Arizona President and CEO Pearl Chang Esau, and Support Our Schools AZ executive director Jennifer Johnson.
For Ingersoll, getting to the bottom of the teacher shortage starts with focusing on how schools operate because that’s where the problems and solutions are found, he said.
A national analysis from the 2012-13 school year showed that job dissatisfaction was a leading factor behind teacher turnover. A majority of public school teachers — 66 percent — cited their particular source of dissatisfaction stemmed from administration. About half pointed to a lack of influence and autonomy and classroom intrusions.
Other factors included being dissatisfied with accountability or testing, student discipline problems and being dissatisfied with teaching assignments.
Only 29 percent of teachers cited poor salary and class size.
The national data presented by Ingersoll parallels data collected as part of a local study by Tucson Values Teachers, though Arizona’s lower-than-average pay may weigh more heavily on educators here than it does elsewhere.
A look at median annual teacher pay in Tucson and metropolitan areas like Phoenix, Colorado Springs, Austin, Albuquerque, Denver, Las Vegas, Salt Lake City, El Paso, San Antonio, Portland and San Diego found Tucson educators at the bottom, even with cost of living factored in.
“How do we keep our teachers in Tucson and Arizona when they’re better off in every single metropolitan area that we compared to on the map?” asked University of Arizona research economist Jennifer Pullen. “Their wages buy them more locally priced goods and services in every single area we explored on the map when compared to Tucson and Phoenix.”
That could all change with some political will, said Ingersoll who described Arizona’s low teacher pay as “extreme” and said he was stunned to learn that Arizona’s surplus is not being tapped to improve education.
Arizona Education Association President Andrew Morrill agreed with Ingersoll, saying the shortage of people willing to teach is a direct reflection of the working conditions that have been created.
“When a state has neither the financial means currently nor a lot of evidence of the political will to respect and value teachers, how do we make our respect for teachers material?” Morrill said.
The community must look to the lawmakers they elect to ensure they support programs and policies that are “good for teachers and good for kids,” said Expect More Arizona’s Esau.
Celebrating teachers, investing time and money into schools and local organizations that support schools are other steps community members can take to improve the situation, Chang Esau said.