Where Are Your Priorities, Arizona? Compensate Teachers Fairly!

It may be difficult to believe after reading my often curse-laden, inappropriate blog, but I am studying to be an elementary school teacher.

I have always gravitated to children.  I just speak their language.  When I registered my son for Kindergarten, within five minutes of waiting in the office, I had two children sitting in my lap reading a book while a group sat next to me coloring pictures and showing me their drawings.  After the children were taken into the classroom for their placement assessment, I had to talk to the parents.  At least I attempted to.  After a few LONG, AWKWARD moments, we all gave in and pretended to respond to urgent texts on our phones.

I am currently taking a course called “Classroom Management.”  I talk with veteran teachers to learn their tricks for handling the workload associated with a class.

My first assignment was to interview a teacher and ask any five questions I wanted.  I decided to use it as an opportunity to get information about my worst fears.  I interviewed my son’s preschool teacher because she has taught at every level (high school, middle, elementary, and special education), and is currently on the board that determines how to implement the curriculum across all schools under the same program.  The preschool is part of the elementary school district, so she has knowledge of that system as well.

Some of her answers set my mind at ease, such as when I asked about dealing with parents.  She said most parents are very helpful and responsive, and that in her 30+ years of teaching, she has had very few substantial conflicts.

Other feedback was not so uplifting.  I had been told that teachers have to supply their own classroom materials, but I wasn’t sure how extensive that was.  She advised that budget changes from school to school.  She said she spends about $3,000 out of pocket a year on supplies.  In talking with other teachers, that figure seems to be on the high side. But as she explained it, her kids are grown and her finances are a bit more flexible, so she does a little extra.  Every time there is a special theme, like the recent “pirate” week, she pays for the eye patches, treasure maps, gold doubloons, and spy glasses.  I guess its not so bad- one of her first jobs was teaching a group of sixteen special needs children, and all she was given were the chairs and desks.  Of course, she doesn’t just pay for “extras.”  Teachers are required to pay for everything from the rug for circle time to the books in their libraries and the supplies to outfit their bulletin boards.

It astounds me that teachers are expected to stock and furnish their classrooms. How can an employer expect you to do a job and not give you the tools to do it?  Especially the critical job of caring for and educating children.

I took to my facebook page to rant.  Teachers told me that yes, this was the standard.  One savvy teacher offered to help me fill out grant requests, and show me the ropes of finding cheap or free supplies.  Her response was well meaning and valuable, but I still can’t get past the initial notion.  In addition to mapping and teaching curriculum, monitoring students, interacting with parents, and maintaining a classroom, I now have the additional task of begging for supplies?  It just seems WRONG!

Of course I can do it.  That what’s goes with the job I guess.  But it profoundly upsets me that the message to teachers is “you are not valued.”  Unfortunately, I live in Arizona, one of the worst states as far as funding education.  A starting teacher in AZ will make $31,689- about $5,000 less than the national average (and far less than I made as an administrative assistant without a college degree). The average elementary school teacher salary in AZ is$42,560- about $12,000 less than the national average. AZ spends about $3,000 less per student than the national average.

During my interview, I asked about working long hours.  I made a joke (so I thought) about not wanting to work from 5am-11pm.  The teacher responded “oh, like I do.”  Some teachers I spoke with said the refuse to work past contracted hours, but others said long hours are the norm.  In the age of technology, teachers are often expected to be available by cell phone or email well into their “off” hours.

The number one comment I keep hearing is “you do it because you love teaching.”  I understand the rewards of participating in a career you believe in, and making a lasting difference in the lives of children.  Those kind of benefits do not have a price tag.  But I don’t see why those things can not exist together.  Can’t I be a positive figure in the educational lives of children, and receive fair compensation for my work?

A third of all teachers will leave the profession within the first two years of teaching.  I completely understand this.  I have spent the last two days crying, wondering if I have the strength to do this job.  I HATE that the most inspiring, dedicated people willing to take on all these challenges are given more and more roadblocks to overcome.  I went to a “Moms and Muffins” gathering at my son’s school today.  The end of the breakfast was a reminder to attend the meeting on Monday to discuss how further budget cuts are going to impact our school.  I am lucky to live in one of the better school districts in Arizona.  I cry even more when I think about what the less economically advantaged schools must be facing.

In response to my rant, a friend wrote “…you could do something about it. It is a raw deal…..children need a champion, but all they are getting are martyrs. Imagine the education people who are balanced, supported, and empowered could provide.”

She is absolutely right, and I don’t want to be another voice complaining without action.  But I don’t know where to start. So I’m asking, in all sincerity, how do we fix this?  What ideas do you have? Who can I contact to help?  All ideas and input are welcome.

I don’t know what I am going to do.  Maybe I’m not cut out for teaching.  I’m having a hard time handling the stress of just getting the degree, let alone the actual job.  There are many ways to help children and more than one road to using my talents.  What I do know is that regardless of my personal path, this treatment of teachers is something that must be changed.  We don’t need more people willing to take less and do more because they believe in children.  We need people willing to step up and fight to show educators they are valued and indispensable.

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