If Arizonans want talented and effective teachers in classrooms with our kids, then we must understand this group of professionals as a workforce and take steps to retain them in the same way we seek out and support other industries.

A recent survey on the teaching workforce in Southern Arizona confirmed what many who pay attention to education already know. Among the findings:

  • It’s difficult work with long hours.
  • The pay is low enough that many people take a second job, yet many teachers spend their own money on classroom supplies. The average expense is $1,142.
  • Teachers believe they’re seen by the public as more akin to child-care workers than skilled professionals.
  • More than 1 in 4 respondents said they were “not at all likely” to still be teaching in Southern Arizona in five years.
  • Forty percent of the responding teachers said they would be “not at all likely” to recommend teaching in Southern Arizona to others.

Investing in education is one of the most intelligent business decisions a community can make for its immediate benefit — and its future. Nationwide, teachers comprise the largest workforce.

Teaching has long suffered from the misperception that anyone can do it. The ability hasn’t been valued, and the skill and experience that is necessary to do it with excellence is not recognized.

“People have an antiquated idea of what a teacher does,” Jacquelyn Jackson, executive director of Tucson Values Teachers, said in an interview.

Teaching today is also not an 8-to-3 job with long vacations and summers off. Southern Arizona teachers spend an average of 60 hours per week on the job — in the classroom, preparing lessons, grading, pursuing professional development, performing assigned extra duties during the school day and after class and over the summer break. Even if that is an overestimation of time spent, it is obvious that teaching is not the job some think it to be.

Tucson’s bright spot, based on the survey, is that while most teachers fell into the neutral range when asked if they’re satisfied with their job, 43 percent in that category said they were satisfied with their administration and supervisors. Nearly 60 percent called salary and benefits the cause of dissatisfaction.

Nationally, however, teachers report job dissatisfaction rooted in two areas: their school or district administration, and a lack of autonomy or discretion in what and how they teach, according to University of Pennsylvania Professor Robert Ingersoll, co-author of the study “Seven Trends: The Transformation of the Teaching Force.”

The teaching profession has become one of quick churn across the country, which leads to a constant influx of beginners. Of that starting group, about 50 percent will leave teaching within five years, Ingersoll said.

“In the late 1980s the most common teacher was the 15-year veteran,” he said. “Now, it’s a teacher in their first year.”

This trend isn’t explicitly addressed in the Southern Arizona study, but it puts the spotlight on the need to retain talented and effective teachers who may be driven from the classroom by low pay, long hours and working conditions.

The Tucson Values Teachers survey provides data about working conditions inside schools. Tucson is a generous community, giving money and supplies to schools, and that support needs to continue, but that’s scratching the surface.

As a community we talk a lot about economic development and investing for growth. We should do the same with education.

Teachers need advocates at the Capitol who aren’t the usual group of school-district lobbyists, parents and educators.

An example from several years ago offers a road map. Republican lawmakers were pushing bad legislation that reinforced our state’s anti-Latino image and would have hurt Arizona’s already struggling economy.

Business leaders from across the state came together and spoke out publicly against those bills. The executives exercised their unified influence then, and it is time for education and teacher retention to reignite that level of concern and action.

Education is economic development.