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Arizona classroom educators no longer need a degree. This is a terrible idea.

Kids deserve better than 19-year-old amateurs

Arizona Governor Doug Ducey signed a bill earlier this week stipulating that students can begin teaching public school classrooms without having completed a degree.

This is a bad law, borne of staffing desperation and Arizona’s history of underpaying and under-preparing its teachers.

Arizona ranks 44 out of 50 states for average teacher pay, with salaries much lower than those of other college graduates, according to a report from the National Education Association, last updated in April 2022.

Arizona School Personnel Administration released a survey in February showing that teachers who did not meet state certification requirements filled more than 47 percent of teaching vacancies, Arizona Republic reported.

Senate Bill 1159 does specify some restrictions which many press reports have omitted. Teachers admitted under this program must be enrolled in college and engaged in some kind of training program. However, the Arizona Board of Education “may not require a prescribed program sequence, content or design from the school district or charter school in order to obtain approval,” according to SB 1159.

New teachers hired under this program also will not be allowed to “regularly instruct students without the presence of a full-time teacher, certificated teacher, instructional coach or instructional mentor unless the candidate possesses other means of certification,” according to the bill.

Nonetheless, the bill will allow undergraduate students to lead K-12 classroom instruction. This is not good.

Conservatives have criticized education majors as lightweight: heavy on ideology and low on content. However, a college major surely teaches some organization and responsibility that would make a graduate a preferable teacher to a non-graduate, all other things being equal. Graduates are also much more likely to be older, more experienced and more mature.

Also, just because many education degrees are subpar doesn’t mean they must be that way. Colleges could design majors and programs that train students in content knowledge and sound pedagogy. Hillsdale College seems to offer such a program. Lawmakers should propose better preparation, not less preparation.

Though good teaching training programs exist, they require a substantial commitment, much more than any on-the-job training program a school could provide to a working classroom teacher.

Even more, it seems impossibly demanding to ask a full-time undergraduate student to teach a classroom on top of their course load. A 2022 report by the EdWeek Research Center and commissioned by Merrimack College surveyed more than 1,300 U.S. teachers and found that they reported working an average of 54 hours per week, just 25 hours of which were spent teaching students.

The certified teacher or “instructional mentor” specified by the bill to supervise the new teacher may relieve some of that burden, but it’s not clear by how much. Nothing in the law guarantees that a hapless undergrad teacher wouldn’t need to do all that classroom work on her own.

It’s hard to imagine that she could simultaneously take a full college course load and succeed in both.

The EdWeek study also reveals that teachers are unhappy with many aspects of their profession. Just 12 percent said they were very satisfied with their jobs, and less than half said the general public respects them and views them as professionals. Most teachers also said they “lack control of their time,” according to the report summary. A new undergraduate Arizona teacher would contend with these pressures and poor conditions on top of her inexperience and time deficit.

It’s about desperation, not expanding opportunity

“For the past eight years, we have made it a priority to give our kids a high-quality education, and this legislation builds on those actions,” Governor Ducey stated in a July 5 news release. “S.B. 1159 will ensure that more Arizonans have the opportunity to pursue a career in education and help get our kids caught up.”

Giving Arizonans more opportunities is a useful cover for the grim reality that Arizona is desperate for teachers.

In February, data released by the Arizona Department of Education showed that the number of full-time teachers was the lowest since at least 2004, according to ABC.

As of January 2022, nearly 2,000 teacher positions were unfilled, and nearly 1000 had resigned by February, according to an article published February 2022 by Cronkite News, a division of Arizona PBS.

“Arizona has some of the largest class sizes in the nation and some of the lowest funding,” the news outlet reported.

No wonder Arizona needs to turn to undergraduates to staff its classrooms.

I taught school in Arizona from 2015-18, and it was the hardest professional experience of my life. I routinely went home to piles of grading and emotionally exhausting parent emails after eight or more hours at school. My health deteriorated, and my paychecks were so low that, as a single person, I relied on family members to help make ends meet for housing and food. Many of my peers were similarly overwhelmed.

Undergoing all of that as a 19-year-old college student seems incomprehensible.

Arizona children already held back by COVID shutdowns need mature, well-trained teachers, not burned-out neophytes. SB 1159 is not fair to the college kids, and it’s not fair to the students they teach.

There’s nothing conservative about abdicating the responsibility to effectively transmit skills and knowledge to the next generation.

Parents, demand solid, content-rich, evidence-based training for your teachers, whether they work in public, charter, private or religious schools. Advocate for the salaries and the respect they deserve. Don’t accept compromises disguised as expanded opportunity.

Your children deserve nothing less.

MORE: Education professor shifts approach, vindicating science over ideology

IMAGE: Merrimack College

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About the Author
assistant editor
Maggie has previously worked as an associate editor of Columbia magazine, an editorial assistant at DNAinfo.com, and an elementary school teacher at a charter school in Phoenix. She holds a B.A. from New York University and lives in New Haven, Connecticut.