Arizona teacher shortage remains 'dire' as students head back to school

A few school districts in Arizona are already heading back to school, but will there be enough teachers to fill classrooms? 

Some teachers are saying they're feeling underappreciated and overworked as the last few years the state has had a hard time finding and retaining teachers.

As of late, things are looking pretty dire, and the salary is the main reason teachers say they're looking for new careers to help pay their bills.

"It was one of the hardest decisions I have ever had to make because I loved the job," says Tonya Sandoval, a former elementary school teacher.

Over the last 14 years, Sandoval dedicated her life to teaching kindergarten through third grade, but last year, she made the tough decision to leave her dream job.

"Honestly there was an imbalance between the responsibility, the stress and the pay. I hold a master's degree and I was barely making ends meet. I needed a second job, and it just got to the point where it wasn’t worth it anymore," Sandoval said.

She’s not alone.

There are hundreds of teacher vacancies across the state, with many leaving because of the low salary, lack of support, and stress of today’s society.

Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman says the vacancies are leading to higher teacher burnout which ultimately impacts the students.

"Unfortunately we do continue to have a dire, severe teacher shortage across the state in Arizona. It’s very frustrating for us to see this especially knowing that we do have a sufficient number of people who do have their teaching certificates in Arizona however we do have a very difficult time in retaining the teachers in our schools. Arizona does continue to rank the lowest average teacher pay in the country," Hoffman explained.

In an attempt to try and combat the issues, more funding was added to the state budget, but many say it’s still not enough.

Under new legislation signed by Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, educators no longer need a college degree to begin teaching. All they need is to be enrolled in a teaching program.

Rodrigo Palacios teaches at a high school in Tempe and says, "We are professionals. We have multiple degrees often times and so the minimizing of these requirements really is a way for our legislators to delegitimize our profession."

There are many vacancies across the state, especially for specialized positions and special education. If you're interested in becoming a teacher, check with your local school district for more information.