ARIZONA, USA — Educators who track teacher vacancies in Arizona say they are observing a subtle but nonetheless encouraging trend in the teaching ranks since statewide raises were implemented in 2018.

"Initially, and even currently, we see greater retention of existing teachers," said Justin Wing of the Arizona School Personnel Administrators Association (ASPAA).

The association released the results of its annual survey of school districts and charter schools regarding teacher positions. Among those that participated in the survey, the percentage of current teacher vacancies “a few weeks” into the 2019 school year is 21%. Although the number is unacceptable, according to Wing, it represents an improvement from 25% in 2018.

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The category of teacher vacancies include positions being filled by long-term substitutes, vacancies collapsed in which an existing teacher now has a class size that exceeds the school’s class size limits, and vacancies collapsed in which the school created multi-grade classrooms.

The annual survey does not represent all public schools in Arizona, and the amount of schools providing data fluctuates every year. A total of 150 school districts and charter schools participated in the 2019 survey, including the largest districts in Arizona.

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The survey represents more than half of the student population in the state, according to Wing.

The survey also addresses the number of positions filled using “alternative methods.” This category includes student teachers, individuals with pending certification, and individuals who received a teacher intern certificate.

That number hovered around 48% of all teachers in both 2018 and 2019 and currently sits at 3,357 positions, among those surveyed. Wing says administrators are concerned many of those teachers won't remain in the profession because they lack support.

 “Although there's a lot more opportunities to become alternative-certified, there isn't the funding to help support these individuals to grow as a teacher, to grow their professional practice as they move through their teaching career,” Wing said.

Low teacher pay, large class sizes and a lack of support remain the biggest concerns for human resource administrators, said Wing.

One teacher said the legislature-approved teacher raises, amounting to a minimum of 15% over two years statewide, have given her and colleagues a much-needed morale boost. But she said she still sees turnover.

 "As a mom and a teacher, I'm seeing highly qualified teachers jump ship for better opportunities all the time," said Pinnacle High School Teacher Katie Fizz. "Even in the face of that, I think there is a group of us that still want to remain optimistic and be in this eye of optimism, regardless of the storm, that things will be better for our kids one day."