Briana, a best friend of my daughter, is a first responder. She is a freshly minted teacher beginning her first professional year of school. She’s running toward a crisis. It’s not a burning building; it’s Arizona’s public education system.
Teachers have left Arizona classrooms in droves, causing a critical shortage of educators. Rare is the school district that begins this academic year with a full complement of certified teachers. Many meet classroom needs with long-term substitute teachers.
An Arizona Department of Education report released this year suggests the teacher shortage will get worse. “It is projected that 26,122 will be eligible to retire by June 30, 2018,” the report warns. “In other words, 24% of Arizona’s educational workforce is eligible to retire within the next four years.”
You don’t have to be smarter than a fifth-grader to understand the reasons for the shortage. We don’t pay teachers well for one of the most important jobs in a knowledge-based society, we haven’t built an education infrastructure designed for success and we have nurtured a political culture that gives leaders points for maligning educators and public schools.
All of these things lead to national rankings that put Arizona at the bottom of most every significant education category. There is little reason to believe the state will rise any time soon without substantial new resources or political will. Both are in short supply.
None of these things kept Briana from answering the call.
Briana is a graduate of a university with a reputation for preparing educators to lead classrooms. A central Phoenix school district hired her to teach more than 20 first-graders basic skills for academic success. Not all of them will be ready to learn. Not all of them have the support at home to practice what Briana teaches them.
Some time in the spring tests will determine if Briana performed miracles, but they won’t record the daily victories she’s trained to record in her classroom. In 2015-16, the best miracle, the greatest victory, for a first-grade class within an education system in crisis is that a hero reported for duty.