PHOENIX - As children across Arizona return to school, they may notice their classroom is more crowded, and the teachers are not familiar. That's because Arizona schools are facing an unprecedented teacher shortage, and many openings are still vacant as the new school year begins.
According to one school administrator, many districts started panicking earlier in the year. While Arizona has suffered a teacher shortage for a while now, districts appear to be facing even more teacher vacancies at the start of the school year in 2022 than in years past.
"In May, a lot of my HR colleagues throughout Arizona were contacting me that they have zero applicants for their teacher jobs," said Justin Wing with the Arizona School Personnel Administrators Association. "They’re worried. Whatever is worse than severe is going to be happening this year."
Teacher shortage problem worsening, survey shows
In a recent statewide survey of school administrators, two-thirds agree that there are more teacher vacancies this year than ever before. As of June of this year, schools reported more than 2,200 teacher openings, mostly for K-6.
"It’s very concerning," said Wing. "We can't leave kids alone in the classroom teaching themselves. Districts have to move administrators or coaches back into the classroom, which means other things are not being supported."
Arizona has one of the highest teacher-to-student ratios in the country, and despite recent raises, Arizona still has one of the lowest average teacher pay, at around $52,000.
The national average for teacher pay is just over $64,000
"When teachers received that 20% in three years, we went from 49th in teacher pay, to 49th in teacher pay," said Wing. "I do think the main root cause of the teacher shortage is pay."
The state has alternate paths programs where professionals with college degrees, but not education degrees, can become teachers. In addition, college students in education programs can start teaching in the classroom before earning their bachelor’s degree.