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.