Teachers in Crisis, Classrooms in Trouble
Recently, Mike O’Neil from KTAR’s “Think Tank” sat down with educators Raquel Mamani and Beth Lewis to discuss the challenges teachers are facing as they work through the third school year impacted by the Covid pandemic.
The educators agreed that teaching in Arizona is more difficult than ever and that problems are exacerbated by increased demands, standardized testing, and mandates passed by lawmakers and other leaders who don’t have experience in the classroom. We hope you will listen to the full episode here or read our blog below.
A Growing Teacher Shortage
Raquel Mamani and Beth Lewis both currently work as educators in the greater Phoenix area. Both of them agreed that policies passed by lawmakers with no classroom experience are harming teachers and children. Teachers are being asked to do more with less, and are feeling micromanaged and overburdened that many are losing the joy of teaching.
Mamani points out that the feeling of overwhelm is “not through a fault of the school or school district. These are things that they are mandated by the state to do. So they’re trying to do their job as best as they can.” She adds that leaders don’t have enough staff and classrooms don’t have enough supplies, from paper to books to bandaids. “It’s not the fault of our school or principal that we don’t have bandaids in our classrooms. It’s a lack of funding.”
Educators are Calling Out for Help
Lewis spoke from her experience, saying “Educators across the country are calling out for help. They’re saying we keep having new things added to our plates and nothing is being removed.”
As an example, Lewis discussed districts enforcing new curriculum in the middle of the chaos of kids returning to the classroom and “teaching them how to be kids again.” She delineated the realities teachers are facing versus what districts are asking them to do: “When we’re just trying to put one step in front of the other, and say ‘Where are our kids? What did they miss in second grade? How can we reach them?’ … to have to wade through all this extra red tape and new curriculum – it feels like the straw that will break the camel’s back.”
“Learning Loss” Due to the Pandemic
When asked whether last school year was almost a total loss due to the pandemic, Beth Lewis, a 3rd-grade teacher, and parent in Tempe said, “No. Honestly, the third graders that I have been exhibiting more resilience, flexibility, technological awareness, and empathy than kids I have ever met in my entire life.”
Raquel Mamani, a teacher and parent in Phoenix agreed that “we did not lose a whole year, we gained a whole year of learning how to survive a pandemic, work together, be resilient. Our students are not just sitting there waiting for the new curriculum. They’ve been through a lot and there are a lot of issues with the social-emotional well-being of students and teachers.”
When O’Neil asked about getting kids “caught up” after the pandemic, Lewis explained that teachers are trained to do exactly that: “We know as teachers how to address all the different levels in one classroom, to make sure every kid is getting exactly what they need. That’s what we do. That’s our profession. People don’t understand that pedagogy is a science. It’s something that’s accumulated over years of vast experience and knowledge.”
Gov. Ducey Threatens School Funding
Lewis made the case that a lot of this crisis has been created by politicians, and would be solved by additional funding. However, the AZ legislature has slashed public education funding year after year, and Gov. Ducey continues to hold federal relief dollars hostage, punishing districts that don’t follow his desires. As Lewis points out, schools with mask mandates and quarantine protocols have been denied funding by Ducey.
The Biden administration has told Ducey he cannot withhold funds from schools following CDC health guidance. However, Ducey has already sent letters to the Tempe Union and Kyrene Elementary school districts threatening to withhold $8 million in funding for this year alone. Lewis said, “We don’t have any money to spare. We’re already 50th in the nation in education funding.”
Mamani adds, “We’ve been in this defunding mode prior to the pandemic… our schools have been in crisis way before this started. But the pandemic … is the straw that broke the camel’s back. It’s really sad to watch. As a PTO president, I can tell you it depends on each district. Some districts have the money to do it, some districts have PTOs that are able to raise money. But what about those districts that don’t have parents who can do that extra work?”
To answer Mamani’s question: those districts do without. This only further exacerbates the intense inequities that existed within Arizona’s funding system before the Covid-19 pandemic began. But for Arizona’s students and educators, additional funding and relief cannot come soon enough.