Teacher Economics 101

Jaime Festa-Daigle Current Affairs, Education, Education Policy

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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.



My name is Jaime Festa-Daigle and I was born here in Arizona. I work as the Director of Personnel and Technology at Lake Havasu Unified School District. I’ve taught everything from ELL to 8th grade English to student council to college level government and economics. I was recognized as the American Civic Educator of the Year in 2012. I am fully focused on ensuring rural students have equal access to educational opportunities as their metropolitan counterparts. My current passion is the development of mentor and induction programs for novice school leaders in rural communities. I am an NBCT, Arizona Master Teacher, and an Arizona Rural Schools Association board member. During the small moments where I am not focused on how to make Lake Havasu Unified School District the best district in AZ, I am usually nerding out on politics, fretting about my children and pugs, or working up a sweat at Cross Fit.

Comments 10

  1. Mike Vargas

    Nice article Jaime, I often think about how ten years ago there were srpinkles of PHDs in nearly every department of a high school campus. Today the only PHDs are in the front office, only because they are the only ones who can afford the student loan debt. My science buddy who is now retired always likes to tell the story how getting a masters degree was easy because of all the free funding out their to do so. Today – forget about it… The bottom line is whats the point when wages are so low. So I guess does that make our current teacher staffs less educated than 10 years ago? I would say yes.

    1. Jaime Festa-Daigle

      Absolutely. When I student taught at Maryvale, it was under a Ph.D. and he wasn’t the only one. It was something I saw growing up at Horizon. The value of education in AZ I see today is so vastly different than what I have known my whole life. Somehow, as Arizona has matured, we have fallen back when it comes to educating students.

  2. Donnie Lee

    When I was in college, I went to a Career Fair at the U of A with some of my fellow classmates who happened to be female. By the end of the day, I had been asked what sports I would like to coach nearly a dozen times. I thought it was kind of strange that it was almost expected that I would coach as well as teach. I never took any of the after school programs or coaching side jobs because I spent all 12 years I was a classroom teaching as a bartender/server. (Which was very lucrative!) In college, we were strongly encouraged to pick other specializations besides History as at the time, there were not enough open spots.

    1. Jaime Festa-Daigle

      I definitely lost a job to a soccer coach once! It is interesting that looking at our high school history department today, that part has really changed.

  3. Beth Maloney

    Excellent points, Jaime. I was just studying supply and demand principles of the teaching profession and shaking my head at the situation we’re in right now in Arizona. Linda Darling-Hammond and other researchers identified the problem and saw it coming in 1984! They even called the fact that states would loosen or take away certification requirements and that districts would try to scrape by by putting more and more onto teachers’ shoulders. It’s really unbelievable!

    1. Jaime Festa-Daigle

      Yes, what we expect from teachers and schools now is so different from 20 years ago. It is just a different playing field. Schools are now in the business of training teachers and teaching kids!

  4. Jess Ledbetter

    Great post and interesting comments here. For awhile, I worked for a district that highly recruited out of state (places with more teacher graduates than jobs). It was a dangerous gamble. Most often, those teachers would stay for a year or two to gain experience that would increase their chance of getting hired back home. Meanwhile, the district spent a fortune flying administrators to those states for recruiting. In my opinion, these expensive challenges are a waste of money that should be spent on AZ kids. I hope our legislators will need your request Jaime and increase funding for AZ schools!

    1. Jaime Festa-Daigle

      I am one of these administrators that have gone to other states and until we have a solid core of candidates here in AZ, we will continue to rely on this. I am hopeful that schools can continue to develop partnerships with universities to grow from within our own state!

  5. holmes847

    Very nice advice by you, actually world is the equation of give and take right now, so peoples are comes from different perception. We are humen being and a lot of wrong situation we are face, so its the time to overcome the wrong things for your nice advice.

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