This was going to be the year: the year where classrooms were going to be filled with certified teachers. Arizona, like many states across the country, relies on alternative certification allowing for teachers to earn their credentials while teaching. These programs are growing and teacher interns are being hired in large numbers. In 2017, the AZ governor signed a bill allowing for districts to hire people with no teacher training under a grade 6-12 subject matter certificate, which is good for 12 years and may be renewed (interestingly, this certificate doesn’t require US or AZ Constitution coursework that other certificates require, not even by renewal). Then in August, the State Board of Education waived student teaching for substitutes who otherwise qualified for certification.
On top of all the certification changes that relaxed rules for who can become a teacher in a public school, the Governor and legislature passed a budget that gave districts the ability to give teachers on average a ten percent wage increase.
Cue the floodgates of teachers!
Yet, there was no flood – in fact, hardly a trickle. My district currently has six open positions. As I was writing this blog, we were able to hire two new teachers, but we also are losing a teacher after fall break due to reasons outside of their control. Two steps forward, a step back.
We also had a flurry of teachers who changed their minds in the final weeks (days) of summer or resigned almost immediately upon school starting. This was a theme that public schools across the state experienced. There were 463 positions abandoned within the first few weeks of the year. My district has resorted to relying on retirees and interns to take their place.
The swarm of teachers did not come.
Arizona educators apparently missed the memo. The Arizona School Personnel Administrators Association gathers data on staffing each year. As of August 31, 25% of positions posted remain vacant. And 50% of positions posted were filled by teachers with alternative certifications who could not meet standard certification requirements. This means only 25% of teachers hired for the 18-19 school year were hired with standard certificates.
In order to deal with empty classrooms, schools lean on long term substitutes, cutting instructional coaches and mentors and sending them back to the classroom, combining classes to create multigrade settings, and assigning teachers a class during their prep time. None of this is good for students; none of this is good for anyone.
There has been so much damage done to the teaching profession in the name of accountability, market-based ideas, politicking, and choice. I do not believe that we will return to a time where standard certification is the only choice, and that is okay. The profession has to be attractive to young people and what worked for the past century is probably not going to work for a new generation looking to accelerate through college and trade schools. However, the business of teaching relies on the ability to hire teachers. And even by lowering the barriers to entry and modestly increasing pay, teaching is still not attractive enough to draw people into the classroom.
According to the Washington Post, teachers are leaving the classroom and candidates are not applying for entrance into colleges of education, not just because of the lack of appropriate pay, but also “insufficient classroom resources, and so many testing requirements and teaching guidelines that they feel they have no flexibility and too little authentic instructional time.”
This is not new information, we have lived with this reality for most of the past decade, but the time has to be now that we demand change and control over our profession. Somebody told me recently that school should feel like home. Our schools need to be places that are healthy for staff and students alike and places where people want to come to work, where we can have high expectation for all teachers who lead classrooms, where we understand what our professional duties are and are able and willing to do those things, and most importantly where we have the respect of our community and are not treated as political hot potatoes.
I spend much of my time asking people if they have thought about teaching, and I generally get a surprised, “Yes!” Teaching is the only profession I have ever thought about, and I love teaching as much today as I did when I was 21. I am convinced that together we can make the change to treat it as the esteemed profession we all know it must be.
Then we can finally cue the teachers.