There are more than 20,000 teachers in the state of Arizona who are eligible to retire at any time.
And it might be the beginning of a flood in schools over the next five years.
At the beginning of the year, the Arizona State Retirement System estimated that 20,266 teachers were eligible to retire based on their age, seniority, and other factors.
Nearly half – 9,105 – were between the ages of 50 and 55, which is the earliest age group eligible for full retirement payments. It’s unknown how many more employees will be able to retire in the coming several years, or how many will actually depart the company and when.
A recent Arizona Department of Education investigation found that 9,584 teachers in 2019-2020 were between the ages of 44 and 49, which suggests that the possible turnover rate may be much higher than 1 in 3.
If a mass migration is on the way, it won’t be confined to the state of Arizona. A poll conducted in February by the National Education Association indicated that 55% of instructors are considering early retirement, up from 37% in August.
Retirees are flocking to states like California, Alabama, and Ohio.
Everywhere, there is a teacher shortage due to a combination of an aging workforce and a decline in the number of people entering the field. It’s no surprise that we have a teacher shortage because of the epidemic and the constant criticism of schools.
However, considering how much academic progress was halted during the pandemic, this is occurring at the most inopportune moment. Because it will take many years for pupils to catch up, excellent instructors who aren’t constantly changing jobs are going to be necessary.
What happens when Arizona schools are unable to fill vacancies has already been shown.
The Arizona School Personnel Administrators Association conducted a biennial study, and it found that many instructors are using long-term replacements, merging classrooms, and putting additional work on those who are still employed. If a large number of instructors retire, this will only become worse.
Look at Ajo, a once-mining hamlet on the Mexican border that lost almost half of its instructors to retirement a decade ago. In order to fill classes, Superintendent Bob Dooley said, the district depends on overseas instructors since few in-state teachers are interested in working in such a tiny community.
This year will see the departure of a large number of instructors from the United States who have been here for more than a few years.
After two instructors resigned abruptly at the start of the school year, the district, which has 400 kids in grades K-12, canceled art and music lessons. It has lately hired instructors to reintroduce those topics, but the incoming art instructor has already left for another district, and no replacements have been found.
Even in bigger, more urban districts, recruitment for teachers, support personnel, and administrators is increasingly done year-round. There is a lot of competition for new hires, and that competition is only going to become more intense as more senior staff retire.
Even while retirements in the state are increasing, they did not occur in large numbers during the worst of the outbreak, as some had expected.
Over the previous five years, the average age and years of experience of instructors has risen steadily. Charter school instructors tend to be younger, and rural teachers tend to be older, than the state’s 42-year-old average.
There may be a retirement wave that grows in magnitude and influence as more experienced teachers in the state choose to remain put.
As a matter of fact, our elected leaders have made it easier for persons with no official training in teaching (Senate Bill 1159, which would further broaden these possibilities, is now awaiting a final vote in the House) and for substitute teachers to stay longer in the same schools. For the first time ever, teachers in Arizona are able to retire and return to work in classrooms.
The Arizona Teachers Academy, which provides student debt forgiveness if graduates commit to teach in Arizona schools for a certain period of time, has also received continuous funding from legislators. It’s a solid first step toward increasing the number of instructors who complete their bachelor’s degrees.
In addition, many of Arizona’s inexperienced teachers leave the profession before they’ve spent five years in the classroom. A lot more attention should be paid to it than it has received so far.
Project Rocket, a program to better train and assist teachers, was an excellent concept when it was offered by Gov. Doug Ducey two years ago. The final budget, however, does not contain it.
There will be $58 million invested this year in “Operation Excellence” to help teachers and instructional coaches use their expertise to help students succeed. The three-year initiative is a good start, but it won’t be a panacea.
Because it bears repeating: Regaining our academic footing after the epidemic will require years of devoted work.
One-time initiatives like summer school are not adequate. Every classroom should have a highly successful instructor.
One in three teachers might quit today, and if most of their successors don’t stay, our schools will never completely recover.