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Maryvale schools raise wages, imposing to four-day workweek as educator retention rates drop

Every morning, Laura Gill trudges through her middle school's front doors, weighed down by endless school policies, an ever-expanding mountain of paperwork, and a never-ending avalanche of rules, regulations, and expectations.

“I was burned out, I felt like I was starting to teach the test and that is not the type of educator I wanted to be,” said Gill, an ex-educator at Glenn L. Downs Social Sciences Academy.

She found herself with tears in her eyes during the school day and realized she needed change.

Teaching, which she had once found so much passion in, instead squandered her spirit. 

Gill is among thousands of teachers enduring a passion crisis. More than 2,229 of teachers are leaving the profession in Arizona according to Arizona School Personnel Administrators Association.

Low wages, policies and poor student behavior have led to shockingly low retention levels, according to the Arizona School Personnel Administrators Association.

One school in Maryvale is working to bring more joy and positivity to teaching, such as changing teachers’ schedules by doing a four-day workweek as opposed to a five-day workweek, as well as increasing salaries.

In a time of tight regulations, like student behavior, low wages, and policies, teachers are finding now more than ever the motivation to continue to show up to school every day.

“I felt like I was never going to figure out how to teach in a way that makes me and my students happy,” Gill said. 

Amidst the ongoing teacher shortage crisis, many teachers cite low wages as the primary catalyst, driving many dedicated educators to question whether they are truly recognized as professionals. 

“I definitely don’t think that teachers are viewed as professionals in certain regards,” said Mandy Armstrong, a fifth grade teacher at Glenn L. Downs Social Sciences Academy. “We’re definitely not paid as professionals” 

“I thought about as silly as it sounds, taking my retirement and then going and working in a Starbucks,” Armstrong said. “It’s just exhausting, the load is exhausting.” 

As politics infiltrate the classroom and educators grapple with the burden of stringent, ever-evolving policies, they can find themselves inundated with a workload that becomes increasingly stressful  with each passing school year.

“Things changed every year, a new curriculum, or a new discipline program or like a new approach and you can never really be an expert because it was always something different,” Gill said. “I’d be crying at work almost every day.” 

The impact of policies on teachers goes far beyond the administrative realm; it permeates the very essence of their profession, shaping not only how they conduct their classrooms but also influencing their decisions regarding their continued tenure in the field. 

The teacher shortage also can be the result of a lack of respect within the classroom, a further contribution to the challenges faced by educators.

“Discipline changed a lot. Kids were getting away with a lot of things that previously weren’t acceptable,” Gill said. 

According to Vivian Nash, the principal at Glenn L. Downs Social Sciences Academy, there’s a growing issue of students displaying increased disrespect towards teachers, failing to meet teacher expectations, and often not finding parental support for such behaviors. These situations can lead to the development of a negative classroom atmosphere. 

Despite the challenges, Glenn L. Downs Social Sciences Academyand the Cartwright Elementary District are implementing schedule changes designed to reduce workplace stress. 

“I would go home and feel really guilty about it,” Gill said. “Like if they weren’t paying attention or and then I just didn’t know how to help people.”

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