Where are the Teachers?

Jaime Festa-Daigle Current Affairs, Education, Education Policy

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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.



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 9

  1. Amethyst Hinton Sainz

    Wow, Jaime. This post so needed to be written, and by someone in a position to see the intersection between the big-picture policies, statewide stats, and a district with schools needing teachers. Kudos to you on capturing the moment, and the most likely reasons for it (said as my heart is breaking for our schools and the talented people that continue to choose not to be there…)

  2. Austine Etcheverry

    I do hope for the sake of families and teachers in Arizona we get this sorted out soon. We can’t keep crossing our fingers and hoping for the best.

  3. Jess Ledbetter

    Such great points. There certainly has not been a flood of teachers. Personally, I think attrition is far more about the crushing workload and lack of respect than the pay. But then again, the pay still isn’t good despite the raises many districts gave. These statistics blew my mind: “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.” I am hopeful our state is very careful about choosing good leadership this coming election so we might start repairing and rebuilding our state education system. As Austine said below: We can’t keep crossing our fingers and hoping for the best.

    1. Jaime Festa-Daigle

      We are always in the business of talking about taking things off our plates, but in all honesty I don’t know that we have let go of anything. Thank you for that reminder.

  4. Mrs_Buzan

    Absolutely brilliant from start to finish. Thank you for recognizing the irony of literally taking anyone and then judging the whole profession by “world-class” standards.

    1. Jaime Festa-Daigle

      The burden to now train teachers is just one more thing to add to the list of what districts must do. I am truly overjoyed when smart college educated community members commit to teach, I believe with all my heart in grow your own, but there is a cost. And it is, as usual passed on to districts.

  5. Yolanda Wheelington

    Thank you for this article. I have a feeling that until the overall quality of the day to day teaching experience changes, we will conitnue to struggle with this. I was at a meeting a few weeks ago and was informed that this is the first time that parents are discouraging their children from becoming teachers due to tconserns about the stress/demand, pay, and (literal) SAFETY.

  6. Amy Casaldi

    Thank you for sharing the perspective of someone who is in the position to recruit and hire teachers, but also sees the resignations and staffing needs of your district. I appreciate you comparing this to what the data is showing us about what this profession needs and the changes in policy to increase applicants.

  7. Leah Clark

    Great post! As someone who entered the profession as a second career, I am infuriated that the standards have been lowered in order to attract new teachers with little to no success. I spent the summer completing the US/Arizona Constitution course because it’s required as part of my license. Trust me. It was not fun. However, several times the last few months, I have used what I learned in the course in my classroom. There’s a reason why we as teachers need to understand how our government works regardless of our content area.
    By lowering the standards in order to attract people into our profession, it feels like we diminishing the status and professionalism of our career. We respect many professions such as doctors and lawyers due the amount of time, and let’s be real, money it takes to complete their education before entering the profession. By lowering the bar in effort to appear more attractive, it seems like we are having the opposite effect.

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