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Centered: The Arizona K12 Center’s Executive Director, Dr. Kathy Wiebke, offers her education insights in this monthly column.


A recent news report shares that Arizona is “rock bottom when it comes to average teacher salaries.” Frankly, this does not surprise me. Sadly, the proposed salary increase of Governor Doug Ducey is not likely to move the needle too far.

What caught my eye in the news report is when the teacher being interviewed says, “If you’re going to be a teacher, you never do it for the money.” She went on to explain that “a little pay increase gives you that freedom to be a little bit more creative with the kids.” While I absolutely love teachers, there are two things inherently wrong with her statement.

I am not sure why we feel compelled to justify our salary with the qualifier that we aren’t in it for the money. First and foremost, this is an accepted fact so we need to stop saying it. Second, teachers need to stop making excuses for the salary they do make.

Teachers are like everyone else. They have bills to pay, braces to put on their kids’ teeth, college loans, and at the end of the day, little vacation to take. Educators should not feel guilty about wanting a bit more than to just get by. Most teachers I know have multiple degrees with years of experience. Our future rests on their students ­­— they have an incredible responsibility on their shoulders. In most professions, with responsibility, experience, and knowledge, comes pay.

Not quite as obvious is the second statement. Notice that when she talks about making a little more money she imagines doing more creative things in her classroom. She doesn’t mention her own family or children; she is talking about others’ kids: her students! Teachers spend upward and over $500 per year out of their own paychecks for classroom supplies, materials, and tools to engage their learners. Sadly, we all have accepted this as the norm. What other profession has you use your own money to purchase items you need to do your job?

As a former teacher, I remember making the same comments. I know this teacher is in good company, but these statements are wrong. We need to change the narrative by making bold moves to pick up the pace in Arizona. We have amazing talent in classrooms across our state, but what we really need is political will.


  • Susan Knighton says:

    Thank you so much for your comments regarding teacher’s salaries, especially about the “justification” to our salaries. I have never heard a doctor, engineer or lawyer ever justify their salaries, why must I as a teacher! I should be making a salary that is comparable to the amount of work, planning, and skill that it takes to be a teacher, not apologizing for it. As a private piano and voice educator, I never justify my fees to my students. My time is valuable and my fees are what they are given my skills as a performer and a private instructor. I should be able to do this as a classroom music teacher, not feel guilty to say, “I need the salary to take care of my own needs, just like everyone else in the world.” Yes, I am sure that there are people who will point to the “hey, you get summers off” argument, but during the summer time off, I take the opportunity to do things that I can’t do during the school year: read up on new skills, refresh my current skills, and take continuing education courses (like Arizona K 12 courses).
    We need to change those statements we make and start to change the dialog to “we are human beings and a valuable asset to society, why shouldn’t we be making the wages that we ask for?”

  • Helen Pianga says:

    I often tell teachers not to spend their own money for stuff we need to do our job because it masks the real need for those supplies. It means we have to be more creative in how we get supplies. But people will never see what it takes to teach if we keep buying those supplies.

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