To Infinity and Beyond! Advocating for the Future

I’ve been wearing red every Wednesday since March 2018. I’ve worn it for better teacher wages, for more funding for student resources, for building repairs and curriculum updates, and as a desperate plea for respect for the teaching profession. I’ve posted countless pictures to social media of my colleagues, my children, and me wearing red. My photos have been accompanied by calls to action to fix Arizona’s education funding crisis.

Some of my calls to action have been to contact lawmakers. Some have asked for people to post positive experiences with public education. Others have simply been requests for people to read an article, blog, or other piece of information.

A while back, a former student of mine replied to one of my many education related social media posts. This particular post was a piece by columnist Andrew Heller. It was a cautionary tale about the teaching profession and a depressing analysis of why people should think twice before choosing it.

The student who replied to the post was six when I was his teacher. I remember him so well. He was bright, creative, kind, curious, and self-directed beyond his years. He was, and is, exactly the kind of person who would make a great teacher. In his reply he thanked me and his other teachers for having an impact on him. Then he said, “I hope to be a middle school math teacher one day. I just hope that a lot of things will change in 10 years.”

His comment struck me. I was still for quite some time and I felt tears come to my eyes. Some were tears of sadness, but others were of passion and determination. Yes, I was wearing red to fix Arizona’s current education funding problem, but his comment made the cause so much bigger. The fight isn’t just for current students and teachers. It’s also for the students who want to become teachers.

Many months have passed since that post and reply. But, I still think of it often. It has become part of the foundation for why I advocate for public education and why I continue to wear red on Wednesdays. I wear red to preserve public education for future students. But, for public education to be the great equalizer for all children, we must have qualified and passionate educators in the classrooms.

That means making the teaching profession a viable and desirable career choice. Right now, we are losing that battle. It’s a national problem, but my home state of Arizona has been hit particularly hard. At the beginning of the current school year, Arizona had approximately 1 in 5 classrooms without a permanent teacher.   Our rural districts have struggled with this for several years, but the vacancies have now crept into our suburban and urban schools as well.

Teachers are leaving the profession and there aren’t enough graduates from teaching colleges to fill the vacancies. Since 2010, the number of students enrolled in teacher preparation programs has steadily declined and it’s getting worse. While enrollment for teaching colleges is declining, the enrollment for other Bachelors degree programs is increasing. That means the current conditions of the teaching profession are causing our young adults to choose different career paths.

We can’t preserve public education for future generations if we don’t have teachers. Based on the data, we will struggle to fill our classrooms with qualified teachers if we don’t act to elevate the teaching profession. We must make teaching a more attractive profession for young people entering college. This will require major investments in education and some policy changes. That means requiring our elected lawmakers to make public education a priority in 2020.

According to Bryan Duke of University of Oklahoma’s College of Education, it will take a decade to correct this crisis if we start acting now (Camera, Lauren. “Sharp Nationwide Enrollment Drop in Teacher Prep Programs Cause for Alarm” USNews, Dec. 3, 2019).

Arizona’s legislative session begins next month on January 13, 2020. We need our legislators to be part of the teacher shortage solution. For that to happen, we as citizens need to get involved.

You can advocate by doing simple things like wearing red on Wednesdays and telling friends and family why you are wearing red. If you want to be more involved, you can contact your lawmakers or volunteer with pro-public education groups. Become informed on the nuances involved with education funding. National Board Certified Teacher and public education advocate Susan Collins has great advice for getting educated on school funding in her latest blog.

The bottom line is the time to act to reverse our teacher shortage crisis is now. We need to make sure our legislators know that when the session opens on January 13, 2020 we expect public education to be the priority.

So, I’ll keep wearing red on Wednesdays. I’ll keep speaking out and volunteering and contacting my lawmakers. I believe in the power of public education and its ability to change the lives of children for the better. I want teachers like my former student leading the classrooms, confident in their decision to become an educator. Bryan Duke says it will take a decade to fix this. Let’s get started.

 

Nicole Wolff

I’m a California native. However, I’ve spent my entire career teaching in Arizona public schools, as well as instructing at the university level. My passion for teacher advocacy and support led me to become an Instructional Coach in 2013. I am currently a coach at a K-8 school in Goodyear and love the students and teachers I get to work with every day. I have spent my career actively involved in instructional improvement, chairing many committees including Response to Intervention, Academic Accountability, and Professional Development Committees. I was named Dysart Hero (teacher of the year) in 2012. I was honored to serve as a 2017-18 Arizona Hope Street Teacher Fellow. I earned a Bachelor’s in Elementary Education and a Master’s in Education/ESL from Ottawa University. I am a National Board Certified Teacher. I’m also endorsed as an Early Childhood Specialist, Reading Specialist, and Gifted Specialist. In my free time, I enjoy reading, camping, and spending time with my family.

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