As we celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week in Pima County, it is quite fitting that teachers and teacher pay have been at the center of the budget debate in the state Legislature. The newly approved funds for teacher pay are a step in the right direction, but we have a lot more work to do to compensate our teachers at a level that truly demonstrates their value to our state.
As president of the Southern Arizona Leadership Council, I understand the critical importance of teachers to the economic prosperity of our region. Teachers are educating our future workforce and influencing our community’s ability to grow and prosper. Their students are the next engineers for Raytheon, the scientists for Ventana Medical Systems, the sales force and mechanics for Jim Click Automotive, the Realtors for Long Realty, the nurses for Tucson Medical Center … and the list goes on. Decades of research have shown that teachers are the single most important factor to student success. Investing in teachers makes good business sense.
As Tucson Values Teachers board chair, I have learned several things about the teachers in our community. They work long hours. Our 2015 statewide teacher survey documented the fact that the average teacher puts in 64 hours a week. They spend summers renewing certifications as well as getting ready for the next school year. And often, they work summer jobs to make ends meet. They put in long hours to earn among the lowest rates of teacher pay in the nation. The lowest when compared to 12 similar metropolitan areas on the Making Action Possible Dashboard (www.mapazdashboard.com), even when adjusting for cost of living.
I’ve also learned that teachers vote. TVT just completed a yearlong project with our partners at Expect More Arizona and the teachers in five Pima County school districts — Sahuarita, Vail, Sunnyside, Tucson Unified and Marana. The study revealed that teachers vote at significantly higher numbers than the rest of the Arizona electorate. In the May special election, 66 percent of the more than 4,000 teachers in our study voted, compared with 38 percent of Pima County voters and 32 percent of Arizona voters. In the 2016 general election, an incredible 92 percent of these teachers turned out to vote, compared with 74 percent of Arizona voters and 78 percent of Pima County voters. Our current and prospective elected officials would be wise to take note of this important voting bloc.
Why does it matter that teachers vote?Because teachers know best what is needed to improve education in our state. They are the ones working long hours both in and out of the classroom every day to help our children learn and prepare them to succeed. We encourage policymakers to seek the input of our teachers and to prioritize policies that will have the greatest positive impact on them and their students. By seeking their input, they would demonstrate to the teachers that they are truly valued.
As a community member, you have a role to play as well. Show you appreciate our teachers this week and every week by thanking them for their contributions, volunteering in their classrooms, contributing to fundraising efforts for school supplies and classroom projects, and by advocating for funding, policies and candidates supportive of the work they do. Community support and engagement is critical to ensure the quantity and the quality of our teacher workforce that will lead to successful student achievement. Visit TucsonValuesTeachers.org to learn more about the work we are doing to attract, retain and support teachers.
In some countries, teachers are honored as nation builders. In Southern Arizona, let’s work to honor and value our teachers as the builders of a prosperous community that they are.
Ted Maxwell is president of the Southern Arizona Leadership Council and the board chair of Tucson Values Teachers.