When I went to college to become a social studies teacher, I was given some very specific advice. It went something like this: Social studies teachers are a dime a dozen; no, a nickel. What are you going to coach? Are you going to get a second degree, so you can get hired? Be prepared to sub for a few years.
All that advice scared me.
So in addition to a degree in social studies, I got one in English and then English as a Second Language for good measure. And sure enough, I was hired to teach English Language Learners and 8th grade English before weaseling my way in as a social studies teacher. Finally, in year three, I was hired to teach economics and government.
These days, I spend at least some of my spring at recruiting fairs looking for new teachers. Yes, there are still seemingly more social studies and PE teachers than anyone else, but the tables have turned.
Teachers are in high demand, and I am out there competing with every other school district, charter, private and online school to convince a teacher that my school and community is right for them. All of these schools are luring kids in to talk and set up interviews with some videos, shiny packets of information, and maybe some hand sanitizer or pens.
The days that I recruit are some of my favorite days. They are some of my most tiring days. And sometimes, they are my most frustrating days. I have seen fairs have fewer and fewer participants. I have been told by the colleges that host these fairs that they are cutting back on their education programs because of low numbers.
All the while there seems to be more and more employers recruiting. There were times when I was a department chair, and we had pages of applicants to sift through. There are now positions that go years without a single qualified, or even closely qualified candidate.
As I reflect on my economics past, this is where it stops making sense. From a market perspective, when there is a labor shortage, wages should increase.
Arizona has done some things outside of wage increases to broaden the labor pool. They have reduced the barriers to entering the teaching profession by changing certification rules, but that has not filled the gap. According to AZ Central, as of December there were still 2,000 teaching jobs open and 866 positions that were filled but then vacated within the first few months of the school year.
The crisis that is the teacher shortage varies by state, by content area, and by socio-economic makeup of the school. High-needs schools see some of the highest turnover. States like Arizona are viewed unattractively by prospective teachers mainly because of low pay; however, inadequate salaries only tell part of the story. Phoenix Magazine just published an article citing additional factors: low job stability, highest teacher-student ratio, and low per student funding among the reasons why teachers are no longer choosing Arizona. A decade ago, new graduates from across the country were trading in snowshoes for sunglasses for a chance to teach in AZ. Now, openings across the state remain vacant and Special Education positions serving the neediest kids are still among the most difficult to fill.
As an administrator, I know that administrator support is cited as a top reason that teachers stay or leave. I will be responsible for cultivating a positive culture at my school that is supportive for teachers, learners, and families.
Now, I am calling on state legislators to be responsible for ensuring that teachers in my school are paid competitively with teachers around the country, so that I am not banking on my recruiting fair swag alone to woo a teacher.
Right now, teachers are in high demand, even those social studies teachers like me. They are going to choose to work in states which can pay well and offer them more than sanitizer and breath mints as means of salary.
We as Arizonans, especially rural Arizonans, need to demand that our state support competitive salaries so that teaching becomes a viable profession. While there are invaluable intrinsic benefits to our education profession, there are far too many professions that require much less but pay much more. Tax credits for teaching supplies, one time payments, and lip service will not bring would-be educators to the classroom; however, a livable, professional wage would.