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Low Pay, Long Hours, Second Jobs; Documentary Spotlights Arizona Teachers

Tucson Values Teachers

Arizona teachers are the focus of a new documentary screening tonight in Flagstaff. The film, “Teaching in Arizona,” follows three educators, as they balance their love for the job while living on some of the lowest teacher salaries in the country. Lisa Molomot directed the film, and teaches documentary production at the University of Arizona. She talked to KNAU's Aaron Granillo.

“Teaching in Arizona” screens at 5 pm Wednesday, October 17th  at Flagstaff Medical Center’s McGee Auditorium. A panel discussion will follow with director Lisa Molomot and local educators. 

Aaron Granillo: Lisa, can you give us a feel for what it was like to follow these teachers, and what’s their typical day like? How hard do they work?

Lisa Molomot: Well, I think one of the biggest misconceptions of the teaching profession is that teachers work part-time. You know, they work until 3pm, they have weekends off, they have summers off. And, from what I learned following these teachers for over six months is, this could not be further from the truth. All of the teachers that I followed work well into the evening. They’re up at the crack of dawn. They work on the weekends, and then all of them work in the summer. And then on top of that, a lot of them have second jobs.

Arizona just sounds like a such a difficult place to teach. As far as the people you interviewed, what is the silver lining? What makes them stay on the job?

Of the teachers that I got to film, I saw that that they were really committed to their students and their school communities. And, I think that part of the job is really rewarding. But, the other thing that I saw really strongly was how committed these teachers were to education in general. So, it’s not about them. It’s about making the education system better. And, I think these teachers and a lot of other teachers, I’m sure, in Arizona are very committed to their profession. And, I think seeing some change this year, I think, has been very rewarding.

Well, let’s hear from one of those teachers. This is Nathaniel Rios, he’s a husband and father of three. He’s been teaching history and government for eleven years at a Tucson high school, and says he takes home less than one-thousand-dollars every two weeks.

“I don’t get paid enough for the work that I do. And, that’s not about me being greedy. It’s about me not feeling respected. I feel like I’m good at my job, and to not feel like I’m given the professionalism and the courtesies and raises and all the things that come with that, it’s really discouraging.” -- Nathaniel Rios, History and Government Teacher at Flowing Wells High School.

I don’t want to give too much away now, but Nathaniel actually contemplates moving to another state for a higher salary. How common of a thought is that among the teachers you talked to? 

So, Nate’s situation sadly is the norm and not the exception, from what I found. Every teacher has a plan B, contemplating either leaving the classroom or leaving Arizona or just leaving the education profession altogether.

This film will definitely hit home with all of the Arizona teachers out there, but who else will benefit from watching the documentary?

This is a really great question because in making this film, our goal was to have everyone see the realities of being a teacher in Arizona. So, you know, obviously parents have to have a good understanding of what their child’s teacher does. Certainly we’d love for politicians to see this film. We’d love business leaders to see this film. I mean, you know, in order to get businesses to come to Arizona, we have to have good schools here to attract families. So, I feel like there’s so much to learn by just watching this film and coming out and seeing it.

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