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Three Teachers Find Joy, Challenges In Education
It’s the end of the first quarter for a lot of Valley schools and Proposition 123 money has been parceled out to public districts. But where does that money go, exactly? In KJZZ’s new series, Inside Arizona Classrooms, we’ll follow along with teachers in public schools through the entire school year.
Bedelicia Reyna, Rainbow Valley Elementary
In Bedelicia Reyna's kindergarten classroom at Rainbow Valley Elementary School, a little student greeter welcomes you: “Good morning, welcome to Mrs. Reyna’s class.”
It’s near the end of the school day and around 20 children sit by a smart board while Reyna helps them play a game to learn English letters.
When school’s over, they sing a goodbye song in English and Spanish.
The student greeter and the song are techniques Reyna uses to manage the classroom while helping her kids learn English. Her class is made up of only English language learners, most the children of area dairy workers.
Rainbow Valley is in south Buckeye. It’s a rural/suburban school surrounded by dairies and cotton farms.
"It’s way out in the middle of the mountains, nowhere," Reyna said, laughing.
Last year Reyna went door to door in her community to try and convince voters to pass a bond override. It failed, and now the district is trying again this November, even after Proposition 123 passed in May. She said it’s an uphill battle because she feels the attitude toward education has shifted.
"With all the politics and stuff going on and all the budget cuts going on, it makes it hard," she said.
Seven percent of kids in Arizona are English language learners (ELL) and almost all of them are elementary level.
Reyna is the only ELL kindergarten teacher at Rainbow Valley. She’s always worked in Arizona, but said it certainly isn’t easy.
"It makes it hard, it makes it feel like nobody values what you do," she said. "But I know what I do makes a difference"
Tammy Doerksen, Tartesso Elementary
That’s the same attitude Tammy Doerksen, a teacher on the northwest side of Buckeye in the community of Tartesso, takes with her second-grade classroom.
"Financially it’s very stressful, it's difficult. If I didn’t love it I would leave teaching because of that," Doerksen said. "I have a family and it's not easy, things are tight with four boys."
Doerksen has worked at Tartesso Elementary for nine years, and her four sons have gone through the school system, too.
It’s Friday after school and and Doerksen calls for her 11-year-old son Benjamin over the intercom.
He chose to have his mom as a teacher in first and second grade.
"What did you think about that?" she asked him.
"I think you treated me differently. You had stricter consequences," he said, out of breath from running to her classroom.
She laughs and said she had high expectations because she knew how smart he was.
Proposition 123 gave Doerksen her first significant pay raise — 4 percent — since she started. Raises are how most Arizona districts spent their Proposition 123 money.
Nationally, an average elementary teacher salary is about $56,000. Arizona’s average is around $42,000, a third less. Doerksen said she often wants to get new classroom materials.
"But then I remind myself I can’t," she said, laughing. "I’m a teacher I have no money! I have four boys."
Doerksen’s advice to brand new teachers is to set boundaries, especially on spending your own money on classroom materials.
Tracie Ervin, Desert Oasis Elementary
School is about to start and Tracie Ervin is getting ready to greet her second graders as they come in.
"This year alone I think I've spent $1,500, $2,000 of my own money," Tracie Ervin said.
Ervin is a first-year teacher at Desert Oasis elementary, in the town of Wittman.
She became a full-time teacher after subbing last year, when a bond override failed to pass for the fourth year in a row.
"So boys and girls, it's my turn to speak," Ervin said to a group of antsy students before reading to them. "Because we need to raise our hands if we want to speak."
And Ervin said her hours planning can keep her away from her family.
"When I get home it’s around 7:30, 8 o' clock and my family is looking at me, like — goodnight," she said.
Arizona has a tough time getting fully — certified teachers, which Ervin is still working on as she completes an internship program.
Latest numbers show up to a quarter of open teaching positions were vacant at the end of August.
Ervin stepped up to the plate when she saw a need at Desert Oasis, but knows she has a long way to go in learning how to be a full-time teacher.
"I love to do the job," she said. "I just wish it was a way to be a little less stress, a little less work. But I guess this is welcome to teaching."
Reyna, Doerksen and Ervin all felt the same calling — to grow young minds. Proposition 123 money will continue to be doled out for the next nine years while schools face teacher shortages and those teachers face low salaries.
EDITOR'S NOTE: A previous version of this story reported Proposition 123 passed last year, it passed in May 2016.