In a jammed packed Hearing Room One at the Arizona State House with several television news crews, Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman gave her State of Education address before the mostly assembled House Education Committee (State Representative Townsend was absent).
While touching on the themes she has consistently spoken on since being a candidate like greater accountability for all public and charter schools and the Department of Education, increased school funding, more resources, and staffing for ELL, Special Education, Counseling, and Psychologists, anti-bullying preventive measures, getting rid of laws that permit Anti LGBTQ behavior, restoring early education funding, respect for all forms of diversity, and a desire for bipartisan collaboration between her department, the Governor’s office, and the legislature, Superintendent Hoffman devoted a substantial portion of her remarks (a link to the full address is below) on the teacher shortage, especially in our rural areas, commenting that “Arizona’s Teacher Shortage is Nothing Short of a Crisis” that threatens the “future of our state” which “is on our schools.”
Like a skilled instructor setting up a lesson, Hoffman painted a picture of the teacher shortage by highlighting Mayer High School, an educational institution close to Prescott that she visited. While hailing the benefits of their Future Farmers of America program (getting laughs when telling all gathered that their “motto” was to learn about agriculture and animal life from “birth to barbecue) that has provided real-life educational and career training, she made some listeners pause when concluding that Mayer High School has no Science Teacher and that the students have to take science courses online in order to fulfill their graduation requirements. Even the person who administers the Future Farmers Program has only been at the school for four years and that, unfortunately, makes him one “of the longest tenured instructors” there.
Hoffman credits Arizona instructors as “amazing and dedicated teachers (who) guide their students toward incredible achievements”. She points out that teachers, as well as teaching courses they are scheduled with, are tasked with overseeing the students emotional wellbeing at a time when class sizes average 30 and the stable family environment, sometimes torn apart by traumas like multiple family configurations and opioid addiction, is fragile in many circumstances.
While teachers are expected guide students, they are faced with other pressures that have led to the shortage and recruitment crisis. These include:
• Rising healthcare and retirement costs that nullify any pay raises they may receive.
• Rising housing costs or availability, especially in rural areas.
• Being expected to provide individualized attention in large classrooms with mainstreamed students that may have other “emotional” issues to contend with.
• Unpaid maternity or paternity leave.
• Having to teach courses they are not specialized to instruct. The Superintendent noted in her remarks that there are only 150 qualified Physics instructors in our public schools causing a twenty percent difference in the average number of students taking that class compared with the nation as a whole.
• A perceived or actual lack of respect for their profession in their communities.
Stating “student success is not possible without highly qualified teachers in the classroom,” Hoffman relayed some proposals to combat the crisis (which could potentially worsen as it is projected that “25 percent” of the public school teachers may retire “in the next two years.” These ideas include:
• Ensuring that all teachers get “competitive pay and benefits across the board.”
• Providing paid paternity and maternity leave.
• Having art, music, special education, and other instructors/support staff (like counselors) that do not normally have a homeroom, qualify for the raises in Governor Ducey’s 20 by 2020 funding plan.
• A Rural School’s Network Program where students can take needed classes via video conferencing.
Calling for action by expressing an eagerness to collaborate with all stakeholders in the local educational communities, the Education Department, the Governors office, and the State Legislature, the Superintendent thanked those who have already reached out to her and “exchanged ideas” and concluded her address by emphasizing that by working together and listening to educators, “we will get this (improving our schools and state education programs) right.”
Judging by the comments by the legislators in the room following the Superintendents address, there is a great opportunity here to finally forge a bipartisan consensus on moving our educational system forward with increased funding. As Superintendent Hoffman commented, the “conversation has …. focused on how we fund education and not if we will.” Hopefully, this bipartisan momentum will continue and our students and educators will greatly reap the benefits of it.