Arizona Rep on Teachers Forced To Work Multiple Jobs: "That's America!"

Screenshot/AZ Capitol TV
Arizona has a massive teacher shortage. It also has some of the lowest paid teachers in the entire country, many of whom are forced to take on second or even third jobs just so that they can pay their bills.

But according to Rep. John Allen, the House Majority Leader and a Republican from Scottsdale, that's just part of what makes America great.

Here's Allen testifying in a House floor session on Wednesday:

There’s lots of people out there with second jobs. Most of us in this room have a second job. Good for them! I like seeing people try to get ahead in life, when they take their god-given talents and efforts and make themselves better. That’s America! The idea that we are somehow torturing somebody if they have a second job is just ridiculous. And, they have a long summer! What a great opportunity for people like us and teachers to go and get a second job. Let’s all go out and get a second job this summer. I know my wife would greatly encourage that.

In a stunning display of tone-deafness, Allen later doubled down on his remarks, telling the Arizona Capitol Times that people who take on second jobs aren't necessarily doing it because they're on the brink of poverty.

"They want to improve themselves," he said. "They want to pay for a boat. They want a bigger house. They work hard to provide themselves with a better lifestyle."

Sure, there are plenty of examples of, say, lawyers who dabble in real estate to make extra money on the side. But suggesting that their "side hustle" is equivalent to that of a teacher who bartends at night or drives for Uber on the weekends is ludicrous.

As ProgressNow Arizona's executive director, Josselyn Berry, put it: "Show me a teacher who can afford a boat and I’ll show you a Republican politician who cares about education. Teachers aren’t getting second jobs to buy boats or fancy houses. They’re paying rent and bills. They’re buying groceries."

Phoenix New Times reached out to Allen on Friday to ask if he could, in fact, introduce us to an Arizona public school teacher who owns a boat. He has yet to get back to us.

Here's what actual teachers had to say about the boat comment, by the way:

Some relevant facts, from a new study by Arizona State University's Morrison Institute: 74 percent of Arizona school administrators say they're experiencing a teacher shortage. Forty-two percent of teachers who were hired in 2013 left the profession within three years.

Meanwhile, Arizona elementary school teachers have the lowest pay in the nation when adjusted for cost of living. High school teachers are doing only marginally better: Their salaries are the 49th lowest in the countr out of all 50 states. And, when adjusted for inflation, Arizona teachers are actually being paid less than they were in 2001.

The average starting salary for new teachers in Arizona is just short of $32,000, and experienced teachers aren't doing much better. A 2014 Center for American Progress study found that mid-career teachers with at least 10 years' experience were making an average of $37,600 a year, allowing many of them to qualify for federally funded benefit programs like free school breakfasts and lunches. Sixteen percent of those teachers also had jobs outside the school system. 

It doesn't seem like too much of a stretch, then, to conclude that Arizona's teacher shortage might just possibly have something to do with the fact that teachers can earn more money working just about anywhere else. The state's Republican leadership, however, seems to think that the solution is to make it easier to become a teacher. SB 1042 — the bill that Rep. John Allen was testifying in support of when he went on his rant about second jobs — lets anyone with "expertise in a content area or subject matter" teach at a public school, without having to take a proficiency test. 

The bill passed and is expected to be signed by Governor Doug Ducey soon. Which would be great news if there was actual evidence suggesting that Arizona was making it too hard to get certified as a teacher.

But, as Democratic Rep. Kelli Butler pointed out during the House floor session, Arizona has literally tens of thousands of certified teachers who aren't currently teaching. Some have retired, but others have simply moved on to other, better-paying jobs.

"We’re experiencing an exodus of teachers in Arizona because we do not value them," House Minority Leader Rebecca Rios testified on Wednesday. "These are people wanted to go into this profession and lasted two or three years. But now we’re going to bring in a whole group of other folks and expect that they’re going to outlast [them]? I think it’s simplistic and naive on our part."
Many of the Republicans who spoke in support of the bill seemed bothered by the fact that they couldn't just wander into a public school and start teaching.

"I have a master’s degree, a law degree, and yet I could not teach," Rep. Maria Syms said. "I’d have to go through the certification process."

Rep. David Stringer, who earlier this year called teaching an easy job that doesn't require any special skills, argued that there are lots of retired people living in Arizona whose expertise in fields other than education make them perfectly qualified to teach.

His example? Himself. After retiring as an attorney and CPA, he decided he wanted to teach, but couldn't because he didn't have an education degree, he said. He's now enrolled in a graduate program at Arizona State University.

"Although my teachers and the coursework are interesting and stimulating and helpful, it really has not better qualified me, in my judgment, to become a teacher," he said.

(One parent's response: "I DO NOT want him in a classroom with my kids. He creeps me out & I'm a grown up!")

What Stringer and others don't seem to grasp is that people who are very smart and good at their jobs often don't have the slightest clue how to teach.

"You have a kid who gets a bad teacher — who might be a great attorney or engineer or doctor but doesn’t know the first thing about how to handle kids — that’s maybe a semester or a year out of their learning experience that we lose," Democrat Ken Clark pointed out.

Or, as Mesa Public Schools teacher Amethyst Hinton Sainz put it in an essay that's well worth reading in its entirety:

Imagine a junior high where three or four out of your child’s seven teachers each day have no training in any of these areas, and no experience teaching 12- and 13-year-olds. Imagine that your family just moved here from Syria, Senegal or Chihuahua, and you trust that at school, your child will learn English (and math, and science, and health, and…) Or, imagine that you have lived here your whole life, but your child is a shy, sensitive introvert. Or dyslexic. Or the class clown. Or depressed. Or just impulsive. It’s not hard to imagine how throwing teachers into a classroom unprepared is a bad idea, no matter how much they know about other topics. 

Many of the Democrats who objected to the bill made a similar point — that teaching isn't just about putting together a lesson plan, it's also about recognizing which students need extra support or guidance.

Rep. John Allen had something to say about that too, after he finished talking about how happy his wife would be if he got a second job:

"Let’s stop asking [teachers] to parent. What we’re hearing here that we’re not giving them enough money to parent our children. Well, there isn’t enough money to have them parent our children. We should parent our children. For those who aren’t, we should use social pressure, cultural pressure, to have them improve. If we have declining outcomes, it almost always goes back to declining family atmosphere."

Right. So, in other words, if you don't have a stable living situation at home, you're out of luck. But we will publicly shame your parents. (Allen, by the way, is the same guy who recently called out an atheist lawmaker for giving an invocation that he didn't find to be religious enough.)

Anyway. If any of this makes you feel like screaming, the Arizona Education Association, AZ Schools Now, and ProgressNow Arizona are holding a "Boat Parade 4 Teachers" protest on Tuesday afternoon at the Capitol. 
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Antonia Noori Farzan is a staff writer at New Times and an honors graduate of Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. Before moving to Arizona, she worked for the New Times Broward-Palm Beach.