Last month, we honored and celebrated teachers during Teacher Appreciation Week and recognized the exemplary educators who serve our society and educate the future leaders of our communities, states, and nation.
But as the school year is ending across the state, one week hardly seems enough to fully appreciate the challenge and understand the importance of the work our educators are tasked to accomplish.
Over the past couple of weeks, I traveled across Southern Arizona meeting with middle school educators who devote themselves each day to our middle school students and help prepare them for a successful future in high school, college and beyond.
In these various meetings, I learned firsthand how hard it is to be a middle school teacher, yet how rewarding it is at the same time. Just last year, many of these teachers and their colleagues stood up and voiced their opposition to chronically underfunded classrooms, crumbling school infrastructure and abysmal teacher pay.
Our teachers — the ones we task with caring for our most precious resource — advocated for more resources to better meet the needs of our children.
With outdated textbooks, dwindling resources, and the lowest teacher pay in the nation; added pressure is on Arizona’s middle grade educators to help students who are at an important transitional phase of life.
Neuroscience tells us that middle school students are at a critical stage in brain development where they build many of the long-term skills that will help them be successful adults.
However, state legislatures and the federal government continue allowing middle school education to languish in chronic underfunding—the results of which are staggering. According to data from the 2017 National Assessment of Educational Progress, 65 percent of eighth-grade students read below the proficient level and only 33 percent of eighth-grade students met or exceeded expectations in mathematics.
Is this the best we can do? Are we content to sit idly by and not provide our teachers with the support they need to ensure the success of our students? We can—and we must—do more to ensure that the professionals who undertake the responsibility to educate our children have the resources they need to succeed. This is one of the reasons why I am introducing the Success in the Middle Act. It is long past time that we stopped asking teachers to do more with less and instead, equip and empower them with the tools, funding, and resources to improve student success.
If there is one thing I heard repeatedly from teachers, it was the numerous unique challenges that come from teaching middle school. Student outcomes are heavily dependent upon smooth transitions from elementary to middle school and from middle school to high school.
The Success in the Middle Act can help streamline and strengthen these essential transitional phases. The bill establishes a grant program that will help school districts implement programs to close academic gaps and better meet the social and emotional learning needs of students.
The funds may also be used to support students who are at-risk of dropping-out in the future. Instead of a standard cookie-cutter approach, it allows individual districts and schools to engineer and tailor their own programs to best fit the specific needs of teachers, students, and the community.
Teachers know their students best, and this legislation gives them more resources and flexibility to help their students succeed. The bill also ensures best practices are made available to the public, so that other teachers, administrators, and policymakers can learn more about what works best for students.
We know the middle school years are foundational in the development of successful citizens, and we know that middle school teachers are the ones tasked with cultivating and growing those successful citizens.
It’s time we provide middle school educators with the tools they need. The Success in the Middle Act is one positive step forward we can take to demonstrate that we respect and appreciate teachers beyond the designated week in May and beyond the designated school year, and it gives us the opportunity to show our students that we are committed to investing in their future.