Where are the teachers? A look at Arizona’s struggle to fill positions

Aug 18, 2022, 4:45 AM | Updated: 12:17 pm

PHOENIX — Elementary teachers are some of the hardest jobs to fill for schools in Arizona, according to a new survey assessing the ongoing statewide teacher shortage.

“When somebody asks me what teaching job is hard to fill, I tell them the number one unfilled position is in elementary education – kindergarten through 6th grade,” Justin Wing, data analyst for the Arizona School Personnel Administrators Association told KTAR News 92.3 FM.

Since 2015, his group has been surveying schools across the state twice a year to gauge the number of teacher vacancies. Over the summer, the association conducted a survey “to get a temperature check” of the teacher shortage leading up to the new school year.

Wing said the survey, based on responses from 136 public and charter school districts across Arizona, showed there were more than 2,200 teacher vacancies.

Many of those were elementary teacher positions. There were also many math and science teacher vacancies.

Wing noted that in addition to the 2,200 teacher vacancies, another 800 special education teacher positions remained unfilled.

“Math, science, special ed has always been hard to fill,” he said. “That has been exacerbated.”

He added what was also alarming was the 120 counselor and more than 80 social worker positions that were unfilled.

“Some districts or charters don’t even have counselors or social workers,” Wing said. “So if we were as a state to invest in that, my prediction would be we wouldn’t have the candidates to fill those jobs.”

Schools in lower socioeconomic areas were among those struggling the most to find teachers to hire, according to the survey.

One reason, Wing believes, is students in those schools usually face more challenges and are harder to teach.

“Students in low socioeconomic schools, their starting line is further behind those that are in a higher socioeconomic school,” Wing said. “And we expect our teachers to get them to the finish line the same time, despite them starting way back.”

The association conducted the survey after hearing from numerous human resource professionals.

“They were deeply concerned about the lack of applicants for teacher jobs,” Wing said, adding they were alarmed that there were “zero applicants” a few months before the start of the new school year.

Lupita Almanza of Mesa is among the teachers who’ve left the profession. She taught for 11 years before walking away from her second-grade classroom in May.

“It was the hardest decision, but I knew it was the right time to go,” Almanza said.

She said the long hours, stress from online teaching and time away from her family became too much. The last straw was when she was asked by the school district where she worked to implement a new curriculum for the next school year.

“I’m already giving 100% and then to be asked to do more, I just felt like I could not,” Almanza said.

Wing said the state continues to face “a severe teacher shortage” for several reasons, including low pay, large classes sizes and increasing responsibilities.

He said until working conditions improve for teachers in Arizona, schools across the state will continue to struggle to fill positions.

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Where are the teachers? A look at Arizona’s struggle to fill positions