Arizona Teachers — Some Working Multiple Jobs — Contemplate Next Steps In #RedForEd
Benjamin Haynes’ alarm goes off before sunrise on Wednesday.
By 5 a.m., he’s at Mountainside Fitness near Desert Ridge shopping mall to teach a morning fitness class — it’s one of three jobs he’ll work this day.
“Regardless of how much or how little sleep I got, I just turn it on,” Haynes said about his energy level.
He hasn’t even had any coffee yet.
Though a microphone, he asks the class “How you doing?” three times before getting a satisfactorily enthusiastic response. Before long, the class is doing pushups and jumping jacks and sweating.
“Grab those weights,” he said. “Pulse it out right here.”
Haynes also carries this energy into the classroom. He’s a fifth-grade teacher at Wildfire Elementary in the Paradise Valley Unified School District.
“I honestly can’t imagine doing anything else," Haynes said. "But we need help.”
Haynes said he took a 20 percent pay cut when he moved here from North Dakota almost two years ago. The difference is “night and day.”
“Supplies aren’t there, funding’s not there, which you can tell,” Haynes said.
Haynes said his base salary of $35,000 isn’t enough to pay the bills, especially with $10,000 in student loan debt.
After teaching for eight hours, he’ll head to a nearby mall where he works at a retail store.
“I do enjoy my other jobs, don't get me wrong, but I shouldn’t have to feel like I have to have them,” Haynes said.
‘Teaching Shouldn’t Be A Debt Sentence’
Almost three hours after his day began, Haynes meets his fellow teachers outside Wildfire Elementary. He’s wearing a burgundy polo and carrying a coffee as well as a poster board sign that reads “teaching shouldn’t be a debt sentence.”
At a nearby park there are more than 50 parents, teachers and students gathered wearing mostly red. Even a dog named Bella has a matching kerchief on.
Haynes holds up a bullhorn and greets the crowd with the same energy he exuded at the gym.
“All right, how’s everyone doing this morning?” he asked again and they cheered.
“I wanted to come out and support our fabulous teachers,” said Alison Hammond, the mom of a student in Haynes’ class. “I think they deserve all of this and more.”
She said public school education has been the foundation of her kids’ lives. Alison also knows about Haynes’ situation and calls it “frustrating and ridiculous."
“Him being a teacher should be his main focus and it’s sad that he has to do that,” Hammond said.
Haynes said he’s considered other jobs in the corporate or fitness world.
“I don’t want to lose someone like that who’s an amazing teacher just because they can’t afford to live here,” said Mandy Zitkovich, one of Haynes’ colleagues. She’s been a teacher for 21 years.
Her fear isn’t unfounded. Nationally, almost half of teachers leave within their first five years.
Haynes, however, said he doesn’t want to quit.
“I wouldn’t be happy,” Haynes said. “Even at the end of a very hard day, something good happened.”
He shares in his student’s successes, long after they’ve left the classroom.
“I think that’s the thing people forget with teaching, I think they just think that they teach them how to, like, multiply and divide fractions,” Haynes said. "No, we’re teaching them to be people.”
Haynes hopes his students will also learn something from the #RedforEd movement.
“If you want something in life, you gotta stand up for it,” Haynes said.
'Is The Public Listening To What’s Happening?'
At the center of the #RedforEd debate is money.
In Arizona, school funding was cut during the recession, more than any other state. Studies show teacher pay still hasn’t recovered, with average salaries sitting at 43rd in the nation. A stark reality for soon-to-be former history teacher Justin McClellan at Ironwood High School in Glendale.
“Is the public listening to what’s happening?” McClellan said. “Because I see talented teachers flooding out the classroom and it’s at an alarming rate.”
McClellan is not renewing his teaching contract next year because he found better pay in the private sector. But he still joined nearly a thousand of his colleagues and students Wednesday for a teacher walk-in.
Red shirts, the symbol of the movement, unites the diverse group.
Retired teacher Davita Solter was there. She taught in the district for 31 years before working part-time at a different school.
“I’ve now been in education 37 years and I’ve never seen anything like this.” Solter said. “There were times where people were upset and they would go to school board meetings and we would do phone calls and have meetings, but nothing like this.”
Solter thinks social media has been the catalyst.
The group organizing the rallies, Arizona Educators United, formed in early March and used Facebook to recruit liaisons, who then receive directions on how to coordinate walk-ins.
Spanish teacher Jay Figueroa is a liaison and said he’s frustrated by the repetitive rhetoric from Gov. Doug Ducey on school funding.
“I don’t want to strike but I will,” he said. “It’s time to send a message on the mismanagement, the misrepresentation of facts in education.”
Governing boards for Arizona’s two largest school districts, Mesa Public Schools and the Tucson Unified School District, each voiced public support for the educators movement Tuesday.
We respect and honor our teachers and staff for their participation in statewide efforts to bring attention to the need for increased funding for public education,” read the letter from Mesa Schools’ leaders.
The district employs more than 9,000 people. Of those employees, 3,878 are certified professionals, including teachers, nurses and psychologists.
The letter also noted appreciation that the movement has not disrupted classes for the district’s 64,000 students.
The statement was worded carefully because state law limits political speech by schools and their employees.
The Tucson Unified School District governing board said it was ready to “take the steps necessary to improve salaries and working conditions for our school employees.”
There are now at least half a dozen school districts that have publicly voiced their support for the #RedforEd movement.
Ducey’s office touts several money injections into education since 2015, like Proposition 123 and 2 percent raises in two years. Figueroa said Ducey’s efforts aren’t adequate to make up for the drastic cuts made during the Recession.
Many feel like they’ve been shorted. That anger has created a powder keg across Arizona, and Red for Ed was the spark.
A Spark Across Arizona Schools
Across from Ironwood High School, second-grade teacher Melissa Anderson-Larance gathers parents and young students before school at Desert Valley Elementary. At first, it feels more like a reading group than a rally.
“If you can hear Mrs. Larance clap two times,” she said. The crowd claps, and she thanks them before talking about why #RedforEd is happening this Wednesday.
Larance explains community support is vital to her and the thousands of other teachers fighting for a better standard of living.
The children in red don’t pay attention, they play in the gravel instead. She asked the parents to sign in for a head count, and to sign for their support.
“We ask that you please sign there and also that if, when it comes to a walkout, that you would support us on that as well,” Larance said.
For Larance, Figueroa and McClellen, teaching means more than a paycheck, but without feeling heard, teachers are looking for any way to get lawmakers’ attention, even if that means eventually walking out.