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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Teachers: Don’t they deserve better?

    Alex Gutierrez columnist
    Alex Gutierrez
    columnist

    Whenever I think of a group of people whom I most respect and admire, I don’t think of politicians or of athletes. I don’t even think of actors or actresses. No, I think of those people who devote their lives to teaching others. And it wasn’t until recently that I realized how much they give up to pursue this noble, challenging career. Of all the things that stick out to me that educators have to deal with, the most glaring is the dismal rate of pay for educators, at both the secondary and collegiate levels.

    It was during freshman year that I first became familiar with the “”UA brain drain,”” during which the University started losing high-quality professors to other universities that offered them better salaries. I began noticing once I started taking political science classes for my gen-eds. I’d hear the stories about how there wasn’t enough room for students, that there weren’t enough professors and even that classes were being cut because people who were supposed to teach the class had left. I used to think, “”How is it even possible not to have room in a class you paid for?”” And while I realize the problem isn’t that simple to answer, events this week made me realize why Arizona is perpetually ranked near the nation’s worst states in terms of education.

    Arizona, for example, ranks 41st out of 50, 33rd out of 50 or 33rd out of 51 (including Puerto Rico) depending on which set of rankings you look at. Nothing makes more sense of this than what we can see happening in the Tucson Unified School District.

    The district recently offered teachers a measly 1.5 percent pay raise, but this is just an example. Salary increases across the country have been pretty comparable with this. This generous offer by the district would raise the average teacher’s salary in Tucson to $44,275. This may sound decent, but it’s important to remember that this is just the average. The bottom salary is around $28,000 before the proposed raise. The fact is that this raise doesn’t even meet the state’s inflation rate. A good question to ask is this: how do we expect people to join a full-time profession when the average starting pay, according to the National Educator’s Association, is a little over $28,800 in Arizona? Other states don’t rank that much higher, with California starting at a little over $37,500 and Illinois at $30,000. In a time when professional athletes complain about not making enough millions in their mega-contracts, teachers, the people who give us that foundation to succeed and who inspire us to be where we are today, get perpetually overlooked.

    The saddest part of the story of teacher pay is that those salaries in Tucson are just with a bachelor’s degree. A master’s degree and Ph.D. don’t raise educators’ starting pay much, either, as holders start at $34,000 and $35,000, respectively.

    This isn’t just a Tucson-area problem. No – it can be found across the United States. Over the past few years, it seems painfully obvious that the importance of education has been overlooked and even dismissed. From underfunding and the extreme focus on test scores in the No Child Left Behind Act to the woeful state of teacher pay, one can get the idea that education isn’t as important in this country as it should be.

    The Occupational Outlook Handbook states that over the next 10 years, the job opportunities for educators are going to be excellent, owing in part to more educators retiring, but also as more and more people giving up that noble profession to pursue careers that pay more sustainable wages. And given the way things are right now, I don’t blame them.

    If my rant gives any sort of message, it is that we as a society need to pay more attention to a problem that has existed for a very long time and help fix it. For everything they have to deal with, educators deserve a decent starting salary.

    Alex Gutierrez is a senior majoring in political science. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu

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