Teachers in wrong schools
Most qualified are not where they're needed
ARIZONA DAILY STAR
August 3, 2003
A.E. Araiza / Staff Angelica Bejarano, center, earned her master's degree in
elementary education from the UA this spring, but will teach language arts to
seventh graders at Hohokam Middle School.
By Jennifer Sterba
A majority of Tucson's most experienced and educated teachers aren't teaching
the students who need them most - perpetuating a cycle of failure in
lower-income neighborhoods, minority groups say.
"It's a pattern throughout the nation and state," said Alfredo Gutierrez,
founder of Chicanos Por La Causa. "The most experienced teachers are attracted
away from inner-city schools, which are extraordinarily challenging."
Tucson's teaching demographics reflect that trend.
Appearing to fall more in line with other local districts, the Tucson Unified
School District reported this year that a little more than half of its teaching
staff has more than 10 years of experience - right up there with Marana and
Up to 60 percent of the teaching staff in Marana Unified School District has
more than 10 years of experience. The same percentage of teachers in the
Catalina Foothills and Tanque Verde unified school districts - which serve
Tucson's more affluent neighborhoods - hold graduate degrees.
Vail Unified School District, which plans to build 20 schools in the next 20
years to accommodate the booming Southeast, can't hire teachers fast enough.
Less than one in four of Vail's teachers have more than 10 years of experience.
But a closer look at TUSD - the city's largest district with 62,000 students -
shows a higher percentage of inexperienced teachers working in schools in TUSD's
In Ochoa, Tolson, Grijalva and Miller elementary schools and Pistor, Valencia
and Hohokam middle schools - between 31 and 40 percent of the teaching staff has
less than three years of experience, according to data compiled by the Arizona
Department of Education. The statistics for individual schools are posted on the
state department's Web site under School Report Cards for 2003.
Valencia, Miller and Hohokam were labeled underperforming by the state last fall
for poor test scores.
Southwest schools report higher numbers of inexperienced teachers than the
district average of almost 17 percent with less than three years.
The average number of years of experience for teachers at Hohokam Middle School,
7400 S. Settler Road on the Southwest Side, was 5.4 years - barely half of the
district's middle school average of 10.6 years. Adding to the lack of experience
in needy schools is a high teacher attrition rate nationwide.
The National Commission on Teaching and America's Future recently reported that
almost one in three teachers will leave the profession after three years. The
turnover rate jumps to 50 percent after five years. The high turnover undermines
teaching quality, the report says.
"Oh, you can't believe how we suffer," said John Michel, principal at Hohokam
Middle School. "I just now had a teacher call me that was hired last week. She
got a job in Tanque Verde."
Michel came back from retirement to help the middle school pull out of a slump
of low test scores and attendance. He's aggressively sought to boost student and
teacher morale by throwing pep rallies before test week and giving out "Yes you
can!" T-shirts to staffers and students alike. The school slogan hangs in the
lunchroom and the front attendance office.
Recent University of Arizona graduate Aimee Bludau said she chose Banks
Elementary School, on the Southwest Side, because she was excited about teaching
at a new school.
"The rewards of teaching such youngsters may be fabulous but in the end are
rather sparse," Gutierrez said. "You have to deal with a lot of failure and a
lot of hunger. So people tend to move on to other districts."
TUSD, which spans from North Houghton Road to the Tucson Mountains, is hoping to
create a district-wide mentoring program to help new teachers adjust to the
classroom. Individual schools already offer new teachers the chance to partner
with their more experienced colleagues - providing a learning opportunity for
"There's research that indicates whether you're a new teacher or new principal,
if you have some coach or mentor, it helps to develop collegial relationships,"
said Anna Rivera, TUSD senior academic officer for leadership.
Rivera was optimistic that the district's underperforming schools on average had
gained more than the district average in recent Stanford 9 test scores. The
results show her efforts weren't wasted.
"I think schoolteachers will be heartened to transfer to those schools," Rivera
said. "But also, those that stay will see that their hard work is getting some
Angelica Bejarano earned her master's degree in elementary education from the UA
this spring. She had planned to work with elementary-school-age children but
Bejarano will teach language arts to seventh graders at Hohokam beginning in two
"I actually put in several applications and they were the first to call," she
said. "I've lived here for the last 10 years. . . . I see these kids out
on the streets. I know some of their parents already on a personal level."
Bejarano, who has raised her own teen-agers, said her community ties give her an
edge in the classroom. Peer pressure, gangs and drugs are just a few of the
obstacles students face. She said they just need guidance.
"You have to be pretty confident in yourself and your ability to leave your
biases at home in order to face some of these children and their challenges,"
Gutierrez says the imbalance is perpetuating Hispanic students' perception that
because they live in poorer neighborhoods, they're doomed to failure in school.
The cycle can be self-perpetuating, with school assessments driving surrounding
real estate values. Realtor Lyra Done said more and more parents are looking at
schools in the area before buying a home. She predominantly helps families in
the Northwest, including Oro Valley, where test scores have been high recently.
"Whether you have children or not, you need to be thinking about it," she said.
"When we buy a home, we need to be thinking about selling it."
Parent Cecilia Guillen laments her neighborhood's reputation and its effect on
"It's bad enough they're already considered in the poverty zone," she said of
Tucson's South Side. Teachers "see these kids as coming from low-income
families. Probably a lot of the parents haven't finished school."
"They don't push these kids. The expectations are low."
Some students said they value the more experienced teachers and question whether
they're getting as useful instruction from new teachers.
"More valuable information comes from more experienced teachers - more things
that we'd use in life," said 16-year-old Christina Dohring, who will start her
sophomore year at Cholla High School in a couple of weeks.
Cholla junior Jessica Gomez, 16, asked, "How are they going to get right out of
school and teach a bunch of kids if they're not used to that environment?
"It's kind of sad."
* Contact reporter Jennifer Sterba at 573-4191 or at