Arizona teacher shortage made worse by COVID-19 resignations

COVID-19 has worsened Arizona’s growing teacher shortage as hundreds of school staffers are resigning for safety reasons, and state education officials say they’re expecting more teachers to follow.

Within the next week or so, more schools will start to phase out online learning and head back into the classroom. Dozens of teachers say they’re not comfortable with that reality, so it’s forcing them to resign.

Ruben Miranda has taught at a Valley elementary school for nearly seven years, and says, "I would love to come back to teaching and I would love to teach right now. I just don’t think that the conditions are right."

He’s resigning to protect his health.

"So those are some big red flags for me. Just the amount of students I was seeing, the lack of safety precautions, the fact that we were rushing into everything so quickly without a real clear plan and there were so many unanswered questions," he explained

Arizona was short on teachers even before the pandemic. As of Oct. 5, 751 teachers "severed employment" this year with 326 of them citing COVID-19 as the primary reason.

28% of teacher positions remain vacant across the state, while half of the vacancies are filled by teachers who do not meet the state’s standard certification requirements.

Kathy Hoffman, Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction, says, "I was not surprised when I saw this latest report from ASPAA. However, I was completely devastated."

ASPAA is Arizona School Personnel Administrators Association.

Shortly after being elected almost two years ago, Hoffman created a recruitment and retention team to try to address the ongoing shortage. They’re currently working with local economic partners to attract new teachers.

"Now, in this COVID-19 era, and it feels like we were taking a step forward and now it feels like three steps backward," Hoffman said.

Nationwide, 1 in 3 teachers say the pandemic has made them more likely to leave teaching earlier than they planned. All while thousands are calling in sick or demanding safer conditions.

"The conditions just don’t seem safe for me to be teaching right now and so I’ve been looking to other career options," Miranda said.