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New documentary shows what it’s like to be an Arizona teacher

PHOENIX — A new documentary follows three teachers in southern Arizona and gives an inside look at what it’s like to be a teacher in the state.

The documentary is called “Teaching in Arizona.”

“What people will see is that teaching is really a very complex job,” said Colleen Niccum, CEO of Tucson Values Teachers. “It’s not simply coming up with a lesson plan, coming in, teaching and then leaving at the end of the day.”

She said being a teacher in Arizona “is really a 24-7 job” that entails many different layers. For example, she said teachers are not only planning and preparing their lessons plans. They’re also working with kids individually to figure out their needs.

In addition, Niccum said funding cuts have led to the elimination of support systems teachers once had.

As a result, “they’re the guidance counselor, they’re providing the emotional support and the social services and following up with parents after school and on the weekends,” she said. “It’s a really sort of a neverending responsibility.”

The film follows the teachers throughout the spring semester and throughout the summer as they do their professional development and additional training. It ends with them going back to school for the fall semester.

Lisa Molomot, the filmmaker behind “Teaching in Arizona,” said one of the teachers in the film is just starting out while the two others have been in the classroom for more than 10 years and have families. The teachers also have multiple jobs to make ends meet.

“I was surprised at how open and honest the teachers were about their situation,” Molomot said. “It’s not always easy to let the world see your struggles and your flaws. They let me into their classrooms and into their lives.”

Niccum said the film is part of her group’s efforts to show what it’s really like to be a teacher in Arizona.

She said for years, Tucson Values Teachers has been trying to draw attention to the hundreds of teacher positions that remain vacant and the high teacher turnover rate in Arizona. According to her group, 42 percent of teachers hired in Arizona left the profession after three years or less.

“We realized data alone doesn’t change hearts and minds,” she said. “We felt that telling these compelling personal stories and putting a personal face on the data would really help people better understand, particularly people who haven’t been in a classroom in a very long time or have no connection to schools today.”

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