“My passion for education doesn’t pay my rent,” said Elena Sloboda. “If I can’t pay my rent, I can’t meet my students’ needs or mine. I think that will force me to leave the state.”
Underfunded schools and a lack of adequate pay push thousands of Arizona teachers out of the state or the profession every year.
Sloboda, a junior studying elementary education, said ongoing issues surrounding public education in Arizona, such as the teacher shortage and underfunded schools, make it difficult for her to learn about the essential factors of focusing on the students that come from being an educator.
Educators have to watch legislators with no formal training in education tell them what is best for students, even though there are existing practices guided by research for what is best for students and schools, Sloboda said.
Sloboda grew up attending public schools in Arizona, so she has seen the problems in the state’s education system from a student’s perspective. Now, observing the same issues from the teacher's perspective, she realizes how much work needs to be done to improve education in the state. Slodaba wants to use her degree to fight for change inside and outside the classroom.
“Change to me means education policy being informed by educators and professionals trained in education rather than politicians who do not always understand the terms they are discussing,” she said in a follow-up email.
Angela Gomez, a junior studying secondary education and an Arizona native, said she’s also frustrated with the current state of education in Arizona. She said one of the biggest problems is the Arizona Department of Education trying to ban critical race theory and social-emotional learning, even though the department has muddled and often criticized definitions of what they consider CRT and SEL to be.
In March, Arizona’s State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tom Horne, who was elected to replace Democrat Kathy Hoffman in 2022, created a hotline for parents to report schools teaching lessons that “focus on race or ethnicity … promoting gender ideology, social-emotional learning, or inappropriate sexual content.” Within its first week, the hotline received several hundred messages — but according to Horne, “it’s mostly been prank calls so far,” AZ Family reported.
Before serving as the elected Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tom Horne was on the Paradise Valley school board for 24 years. He served as the state superintendent from 2003 to 2011 as well.
Gomez’s teaching philosophy is to advocate for every student, in and outside the classroom. She wants to use her degree to get students excited about exploring the world of science. To further this goal, she said she wants to go to the Capitol and advocate for students within the school system and the state.
Allie Harris, a freshman studying special education, said the biggest negative impact on future educators comes from the frustration of the ongoing political conflicts in education.
Harris has always looked up to teachers and believes education is the foundation of the country and its workforce. She witnessed the Red for Ed movement firsthand, which she described as the beginning of increased public awareness of how teachers are being treated in Arizona — and that things are not necessarily improving.
Harris’s classes at ASU’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College have included discussions about equity, cultural competence, and the foundational skills of being a teacher. She learned that to teach kids in front of a classroom, you first need to meet their needs.
“I’m already seeing how (issues in education) impact the Teachers College at ASU. It’s just really frustrating,” she said. “We always talk about it in my classes. It's an ongoing discussion, really, and it’s just sad to have that reality.”
Next Education Workforce
The Next Education Workforce initiative at the Teachers College aims to provide students with personalized learning experiences by empowering a team of educators through professional development and advancement pathways, according to Lennon Audrain, a research assistant professor at the Teachers College who works with the Next Education Workforce.
The Next Education Workforce argues that how schools require teachers to fill multiple roles can be a factor leading to poor student outcomes. Teachers being habitually tasked with teaching in oversized classrooms, along with often playing the role of mentor and caretaker, has led to dissatisfaction with the profession and a resulting labor shortage, said Audrain.
“Instead of starting from the problems, the Next Education Workforce starts from what’s causing the problems,” he said.
Audrain also spends time outside the Next Education Workforce initiative teaching a career and technical education program designed to introduce high school students to the teaching profession in Mesa Public Schools.
Jenna Tulonen, a second-year in the educational studies program, has always wanted to be part of the next generation of educators, striving to “promote inclusivity that works to bring our education system together to serve our youth better,” she said.
Even with the innate challenges that come with being an educator, Tulonen focuses on what she can do. For her, it is not about the income — it’s about the outcome of teaching.
“You see the potential and the possibility for assisting the students and ensuring they have one additional educator or school personnel in their life,” Tulonen said.
Tulonen has been transitioning between internships; instead of working with students hands-on, she's observing in the classroom, which she described as eye-opening, leading her to view interactions between students and teachers in a new light.
Tulonen is passionate about trauma responsiveness policies in school and wants to use her degree to serve students from vulnerable populations.
“In a system that is huge, it is really hard to provide that individualized attention and support so many of our students need,” she said.
Tulonen believes that providing for students is not just about schools having teachers but also guidance counselors, social workers, custodial staff, bus drivers and other roles that bring a school community together.
Nowadays, parents often don’t want their children to be teachers, according to Audrain. “It was a respected profession, a public service,” he said.
But in recent years, he said, that has changed.
Audrain believes that state legislatures should put more focus on the working conditions teachers are subject to. He also thinks it is also important for legislators to be supportive of future educators.
“I think listening to the educator’s voice is a huge deal. And then translating that into policy is the next step,” he said. “It’s one thing to get a bunch of teachers in a room, and then it’s another to translate their ideas into policies that are actually going to work for Arizona educators and students.”
Edited by Sam Ellefson, Alexis Moulton and Camila Pedrosa.
Reach the reporter at email@example.com and follow @FatimaGabir on Twitter.
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