Finding teachers has been challenging across Arizona for the past decade. Finding teachers has been all but impossible this year. Districts are contending with record openings. According to data from the Arizona School Personnel Administrators Association, as of August 31st, over 2,000 classrooms were vacant or filled with teachers lacking appropriate qualifications. That number may even be higher at this time.
There are many barriers to recruiting and attracting teachers. Although the state of Arizona has increased flexibility for certification, added scholarships for education majors, and in some cases, allowed those with no education training at all to enter classrooms, there is still an incredible shortage of teachers.
I actively work to hire teachers. With this insider view, I see one of the first things newly hired teachers are hit with – high and recursive costs for fingerprints and certificates. These are a necessary requirement to be in the classroom. Teachers must have IVP fingerprint cards. These cards are required for certification and can be revoked for criminal acts; however, the cost for an IVP card is $75 and expires every six years. While these are important safety measures that ensure the adults who interact with students will keep them safe, these are the type of costs that teachers bear personally in order to do their professional duty.
Teachers generally require at least a bachelor’s degree with a mixture of education and content courses. However, this alone does not give them what they need to apply for certification. Teachers typically have to take an assortment of tests prior to certification. Many teachers will require a professional knowledge test which costs around $95 and may require an additional content test like biology or art. This will cost them another $95. If these teachers live in a rural community, they can add the costs of travel to the actual testing fee and see that number skyrocket.
All teachers require certificates. A standard certificate costs $60. To add an approved area or endorsement costs another $60. To add a Structured English Immersion endorsement, which is required to teach English learners will be another $60. Certificates thankfully last 12 years but are specific to certain grades and content areas. Within one to three years (depending on the certificate) teachers are required to take a US and an Arizona Constitution course. This will cost between $200 and $400.
This is all before a teacher walks into a classroom. Arizona teachers spend more in their own classrooms than teachers in most other states at an average of $550 per year.
As a career educator, I feel my investments have been worth it. But for many others, the high costs in education and certificates pay off much more lucratively in other professions. Teachers must earn a professional wage so that these barriers to entry aren’t barriers that are keeping quality staff out. As we work to improve the compensation educators earn, communities are wise to invest in support for early career educators if they want to attract quality teachers to their communities.
Arizona has made substantial headway in making paths to certification easier: showing support for education funding from voters and creating scholarships for future educators. The next step down this road is elevating respect for teachers as professionals and developing an understanding of the high cost teachers themselves pay in order to teach their students.