All I Want is a Comma for Christmas

This past week I went to lunch with a large group of teachers on my staff. We spent the usual time discussing our common students: the good, the bad, the ugly, and all the issues we were each dealing with in the classroom. We talked about family, kids, work, the usual. It was a good lunch. Then one of my colleagues brought up what he wished to get for Christmas. Of course, there were the usual answers, then the newest member of our tribe stated, that all he wanted was a “comma “for Christmas. It took a second, but we all knew exactly what he was talking about. That magic mark that denotes another level in the respect category. That beautiful mark that more times than not is absent from the paychecks of our newest members of the profession. We all knew what he meant.

My colleague conveyed to us the disparity of his situation. Like many of our valley teachers, he came here from out of state. Crippled by school loans, he works three jobs to make ends meet, and then he coaches a school sports team. I know many of us have been there. However, what is different today unlike my generation, my friend very likely will never see the comma in his paycheck if he stays.

So, I understand we have to pay our dues, and in most professions, you expect that it will take time to build up salary and make your way up the ladder. However alas we are teachers in Arizona. If you are like me, there is no pay raise. In many cases I have friends who are losing money annually due to insurance rate hikes and budget cuts.
So let’s break down some numbers. If your take home is $900 every two weeks, divide that by 80 hours, you get $11.25 an hour. With prop 206 the new Arizona law we are not even making minimum wage, and this is for folks who have college degrees.

So how do you maintain the quality of your workforce, a population that is responsible for the well -being of the incoming generation of youth. The guardians of civilization itself? The only answer: create incentives. If we are going to survive, the powers that be must get creative in order to attract and retain quality educators. Sure, we know they can’t pay us more. Arizonans will never raise taxes, its bad for business, its unnecessary, those people already get 2 months off a year, etc etc.. We have heard it all before.
Yet, wouldn’t it be nice to have kids that can read and write in our state? Maybe some kids that value the country and community they live in? Maybe, just maybe, an educated population that is willing to solve our planets problems? Well it’s not going to happen on minimum wage.

But what about some perks? Say for instance loan forgiveness from a state school? A waiver on vehicle registration? Or even some state income deductions? A meaningful family health care package perhaps? How about a teacher incentive program of any kind? In other countries, a teacher sticker in the windshield gives you free parking in metropolitan cities. It doesn’t have to be drastic. What it needs to do is raise awareness of the importance of teachers, and hence the awareness of the importance of the profession itself. A comma would solve a lot of problems, but at this point anything that moves the gas gage back to full, even a tick mark, is going to improve the status quo.


Mike Vargas

My name is Mike Vargas. I am a proud recipient of the 2014 ASTA Arizona HS Science Teacher of the Year award and I am a 2016 AEF Arizona Teacher of the Year Ambassador for Excellence. I earned my undergraduate degree from Northern Arizona University where I was Vice – President of the Associated Students, a recipient of the Gold Axe, and President’s Prize awards. I am an advocate for physics first instruction and I am leading a movement to double the current number of physics teachers in Arizona in the next 5 years. I teach high school physics at Pinnacle High School in the Paradise Valley Unified School District.

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