With low teacher pay in Arizona, students must decide whether to stay in the state or search elsewhere for jobs
| The State Press
ASU students walk by the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College in Tempe, Arizona, on Thursday, March 29, 2018.
With the Arizona’s low teacher compensation and educational rankings, ASU students hoping to be teachers are grappling with the decision of furthering their career in state or seeking employment elsewhere.
While the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College aims to keep its graduates teaching in Arizona, the state’s low — and sometimes lowest — rankings for teacher pay prompt some students to leave and teach in other states with the promise of a higher salary.
Arizona was ranked the worst state for teachers in a 2017 study by WalletHub. High turnover, low salaries and a high pupil-teacher ratio are problems current students and graduates will have to face when they enter the workforce.
Lauren Blomberg, a 2017 graduate of ASU’s Teachers College, decided to stay and teach in Arizona after graduating. She said she felt well prepared to teach in Arizona.
Blomberg said she spent a large portion class time discussing the problems of education in Arizona as well as solutions to those problems.
“One of the bigger problems is that people aren’t prepared well enough to be teachers,” she said. “That can make it really difficult to have a good education system.”
Blomberg said she was never bothered by the stigma around Arizona’s education system because she wanted to be a part of the solution.
“I never didn’t want to stay here,” she said. “I personally wanted to teach well and I wanted to help kids learn. If I’m not willing to do that even if the schools aren’t perfect, then I’m not going to be happy.”
Many aspiring teachers leave the field because there are so many obstacles, she said.
Blomberg said she would like to see a bigger support system for first-year teachers as well because it can be a hard transition no matter how much preparation a recent grad has.
Blomberg, who know teaches algebra to high school freshmen and juniors, said she wanted to be a teacher to help improve the math education students were receiving.
“Ultimately people get a job because they love it, but they also need to make a living,” she said. “On a single family income a teacher’s salary is not enough if you have kids.”
Carole Basile, dean of the Teachers College, said ASU has many different programs in place to keep students in Arizona, and that around 80 percent of the college’s graduates stay to teach in Arizona.
Basile said the college started the Arizona Teacher’s Academy, which provides significant aid to students from Arizona that commit to teaching in the state.
The college also offers extra scholarships and grants to students who stay in state.
“We can only do so much about salaries,” she said. “We don’t have a lot of control over that, but what we are doing is working with a number of school districts on working conditions.”
Basile said the college is also working on changing the role of a teacher.
“The job of a teacher just isn’t right anymore, it’s an untenable job, it’s inflexible and the job fundamentally has to change,” she said.
Basile hopes this the education program at ASU starts to change the model of schools as well, producing graduates who can change the educational system by working in roles other than teaching.
Kaetlin Van Berkum, a junior studying elementary education, said she does not plan on staying in Arizona to teach after graduation.
“It has to do with the state of education in Arizona,” she said. “Arizona needs qualified teachers, but it’s just not realistic to go into the field in Arizona because the teachers don’t get paid anything and it’s just ridiculous.”
Van Berkum said even the teacher who she is student teaching under recommended she not stay in Arizona when she starts her career.
“You’re not able to have a life and live your life with the pay you receive,” she said.
However, Van Berkum said ASU has done an excellent job preparing students to teach in the state and encourages students to stay even though she does not find it feasible.
Van Berkum said if she were to stay in Arizona there would need to be better pay and better benefits for teachers in the state.
“What they need is better teachers and more prepared teachers,” she said. “But it’s a lose-lose because all of us who are well prepared don’t want to stay here because we won’t get paid anything.”
Colleen Chittenden, who graduated from ASU in 2015 with degrees in early childhood education and special education, said she stayed in state because her family still lives here.
Chittenden said even though she was always planning on staying in Arizona she saw many of her classmates go out of state to find teaching jobs. But she said those jobs were harder to find because of challenges stemming from making connections and adjusting to different standards in other states.
She said she would like to see change in how much money is spent on Arizona education as well as where that money is spent.
Chittenden said the student teaching program at ASU builds connections and often convinces students to stay in-state when they graduate.
In addition, Chittenden said she was one of the few people she knew who graduated without student loans and that her peers at the Teachers College who had loans had a more limited job search because of their finances.
Education students who leave college with high debt often find themselves looking for jobs in low income schools because the federal government will forgive up to $17,500 dollars worth of loans for teaching in a low income school.
“It’s crazy to think how much we pay to become a teacher and then how little you get paid after,” she said. “It just doesn’t even out.”
Even though ASU prepared her for her teaching career, there were many things she thought the University could not prepare her for, Chittenden said.
“Teaching is a lot harder than anyone ever can understand, and you don’t really understand that until you get your own classroom,” she said. “You don’t understand the responsibility of all these kids and their parents until they are actually just yours.”
Keiko Dilbeck, a Mesa district junior high principal and ASU alumna, said several of the many problems that Arizona’s educational system faces are political.
Dilbeck said the affinity that Arizona’s Republican government has for charter schools makes it hugely difficult to improve and fund public education in the state.
Dilbeck is not concerned about the quality or heart of teachers in Arizona, but said that the supply of Arizona teachers is low because of the pay they receive.
“We could make just as much if not more in a grocery store,” she said.
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