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Teachers say low pay ends careers in Arizona, leaves some at crossroads

Teachers say low pay ends careers in Arizona, leaves some at crossroads

By: Katie Campbell December 4, 2017, 4:10 am

Arizona teachers have not been quiet about their reasons for abandoning the profession and even the state: high stress, low morale and low pay. Yet the state’s response has not been enough to end the ongoing crisis, a new report from a Washington D.C.-based think tank concludes.

According to a report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, state funding for K-12 education is nearly 14 percent below what is was before the Great Recession. And while Gov. Doug Ducey is pushing back against the findings, the Joint Legislative Budget Committee has shown per-student funding dropped from $4,949 in the 2007-2008 school year to $4,200 currently when accounting for inflation.

The job of recruiting and retaining qualified teachers becomes more difficult without wiggle room for bonuses and relocation stipends. The Arizona State Schools for the Deaf and Blind can attest to that – the agency has 13 teacher vacancies, with more possibly coming, and they need to be filled by teachers with advanced certifications who the rest of the country is also recruiting.

As the fall semester wraps up, other highly qualified teachers are wondering if this will be their last year. Some have already decided it will be.

And those who have long since left the classroom may never return. Here are a few of their stories.

John David Bowman

Advanced placement U.S. history teacher and Social Studies Department chair at Westwood High School, Mesa Unified School District

I’m in my 11th year of teaching, and for my entire career, I’ve been frozen, meaning the promised increases that teachers were supposed to have never came to fruition. In terms of the long-term viability – I’m 34, and there’s very little chance that I’ll retire at 60, 65, 70, which is terrifying. … So, I’m definitely leaving this district next year.

I may not be in education at all, and it breaks my heart. I’m at a place where I thought I was going to retire. In terms of the kids and the community and my colleagues, I don’t want to leave. But I’ve been put in a position where I have no choice from an economic standpoint… I’m not an emotional person, but I will probably weep like a child when I have to leave my classroom because of money. It makes me question everything, and it makes me feel terrible.

Darren Hiebel

Social studies teacher at Westwood High School, Mesa Unified School District

My salary with a master’s and 11 years of experience is $45,000, and I started at $39,000. We’ve had an increase of maybe $800 to $1,000 here and there over the years, but that has definitely not been equal to what the standard of living has risen to. I’ve been trying to leave teaching for the last three years. It’s just very difficult to find a job outside of education when you’re an education major. I have my master’s in it, you know?

To be honest, I want children but know I can’t do that because financially I wouldn’t be able to. My girlfriend’s a social worker, so she’s also not bringing in the big dollars. So, that idea is not even something we can consider. It causes a strain. You’re restricted.

I have students who want to go into education, and I have to be honest with them. I do dissuade them a little bit unfortunately. I know we need good teachers, but they have to understand the reality of it.


Sarah Richardson

Adjunct professor at Northern Arizona University; former math teacher at Tempe Union High School District and Kyrene School District

I have not been a public school teacher for nine years now. When my contract came up for renewal at my first district with a master’s degree, I was going to be making $38,000 a year. So, I went to another district, and I made $41,000 a year before taxes. It wasn’t great. At the time, it was OK because I had not yet had children. I had just got married. But then I became pregnant, and as my husband and I figured out how much day care would cost, I realized that, if I was teaching full time and put my child in day care, it was basically going to wash out my earnings.

I will never go back to public schools. I see what’s happening at the state level with our government and how little they seem to care about teachers, and that doesn’t get me excited to go back. I love kids. I absolutely loved being in the classroom, but I also have to think about my family.

Melissa Hogg

Beachbody coach; former math teacher at Kellis High School, Peoria Unified School District

My husband was a teacher as well – he’s still teaching. As time went on, it was pay cuts and pay freezes, and our income hadn’t changed but our family was growing. We had two boys, and I think my salary was the same or maybe a couple of hundred dollars more than it was when I first started teaching eight years prior. I think it was about $34,000 or $35,000, and it wasn’t moving at all… I did all of the extras. I was a varsity coach for four years and the department lead. I did anything and everything to get extra money. Then, I started doing my Beachbody business on the side, and my income started going up and up and up. By the time I had been doing it for a year, I was matching my teaching salary.

What was the ultimate validation for me was when I got my Beachbody check, and we were able to surprise my kids and take them to Legoland… To be able to provide my kids with those opportunities is something that I’m so thankful for now.

I didn’t go into teaching to get rich, but I was tired of hearing everybody tell me that. I understand that, but I need to make an income where my family is supported and I don’t have to be gone 10 hours a day, five days a week… Sitting in my boss’ office, I was crying because I had to do this for my family… I’ve done one full year at home now, and I’m making more now (more than $50,000).

And I was in a hard-to-fill area. My job was secure unless I did something crazy. My scores were great. I felt confident in my job as a teacher, and I loved the kids. But it came to a point where I had to choose my own children over somebody else’s.

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