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Long hours, crowded classes, low pay driving Arizona teachers to quit

Alexis Baich teaches world and American history at Mesa High School. (Photo by Griselda Zetino)

PHOENIX — Tiring and exhausting. That’s how Alexis Baich described her first year teaching.

“During my first year, I did question whether or not teaching was for me because it is so much work,” she said.

Baich stuck with it and is now in her second year teaching world and American history at Mesa High School. She said her experience last year helped her understand why hundreds of Arizona teachers left the classroom over the last few months.

A new survey by the Arizona School Personnel Administrators Association found more than 900 teachers either abandoned or resigned within the first half of this school year.

“You have to work long hours and, honestly, you’re constantly thinking about what you’re going to be doing in the classroom,” she said. “It’s kind of nonstop, and it can be draining.”

Baich said she begins her day at 6:30 a.m. and teaches five classes.

“Technically, I could leave school at 1 in the afternoon, but I stay because it’s a good way for me to get work done while I’m at school,” she said. “And if kids need to come in for tutoring, I’m here.”

“There are some days I don’t leave until 5:30 or 6 in the evening, depending on what I have to do,” she added.

Baich said teacher pay could also be to blame for teachers leaving the profession. Arizona teachers continue to be among the lowest paid in the country, even with the recent pay increases.

In addition, she said the large classroom sizes and lack of preparedness could be driving teachers to quit.

“You go through school where they teach you the theory, the practice, and you prepare lessons, but nothing can prepare you to stand in front of 35-40 teenagers,” she said.

The survey also found nearly a quarter of teacher vacancies in Arizona – or about 1,700 – remain unfilled. In addition, nearly 4,000 of the filled positions were taken by educators who do not meet the state’s standard teacher certification requirements.

“The numbers ultimately continue to show that we are in a crisis for teachers,” Laura Elizondo, the association’s president, said.

“It’s all showing that we need more teachers in the classroom that have the training, that have the certification, that understand what the career requires of them, and we’re just not there yet.”

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