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Ariz. Teaching-Career Event Falls Flat With Teachers

Well, this seems kind of telling: A University of Arizona event that's designed to get high school seniors interested in becoming math teachers had to be scrapped this year because educators were reluctant to recommend the profession to their students, according to a piece in the Arizona Daily Star.

This was supposed to be the second year that the university's Center for Recruitment and Retention of Mathematics Teachers held its workshop for high school seniors. Last year, more than two dozen students were referred to the event by their teachers, though only five showed up.

The Center was hoping to increase the turnout this year by expanding its outreach. Alas, the results were even worse. Of the hundreds of high school educators across the state who were invited to recommend promising students for the event, only one—a guidance counselor—did so.

The organizers attributed teachers' lack of interest to "dismal" morale in the profession, according to the Daily Star. From the piece:

"The teacher response was surprising in one way, but not surprising in another," said Melissa Hosten, co-director of the center. "We know the climate right now has been such that it's very challenging for teachers to stay in the profession.

"We know teachers who have left to make a livable wage, so we sort of knew some teachers would be less apt to encourage education. But some of the teachers that have always been supportive of education have said this year, 'I really can't; there are so many things in the Legislature that are being proposed that are detrimental to education.'"

By numerous reports, Arizona hasn't exactly been a haven for teachers in recent years, with subpar salaries seen as a major complaint. A Daily Star piece from the start of this school year found that, due to budget cuts, teacher salaries in the state have hardly budged in the past five years—and they were already on the very low end in comparison with neighboring states. Many districts are facing high attrition and shortage rates.

In a recent attempt to boost recruitment, the State Board of Education lightened testing requirements for new math teachers—a move that some, including Hosten of the Center for Recruitment and Retention of Mathematics Teachers, have questioned.

Next month, voters in the state will decide on a special ballot initiative to increase funding for schools by $3.5 million over the next 10 years, with some of the proposed new money expected to go to teachers. But some experts say that, for many districts, any gains could be offset by a pending change to the state's school funding formula that was approved by the legislature last year.

In January, an Educator Recruitment and Retention Task Force assembled by the state's department of education issued the second in a series of a rather dire-sounding reports urging policymakers to come up with additional funding to increase teacher compensation, as well as to institute a host of measures to improve teachers' working conditions and professional standing.  

"As schools across Arizona start the second half of a new school year, a severe shortage of effective teachers continues to lead the list of critical issues impacting their work," the report said.

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