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AEA News

AEA President Responds to Arizona Senator's Attack on Teachers

Hundreds of Arizona educators spent their day off at the state capitol on Presidents' Day to stand up for their students and quality public schools. Senator Michelle Ugenti-Rita called this a “grave disserve to our kids” while voting no on a bill that would prevent over $1 billion in school budget cuts.
joe thomas
Published: 02/23/2022

This kind of teacher bashing is one of the many reasons we have a severe teacher shortage in our state. As of last month, 2,000 classrooms were without a teacher. On top of that, the average Arizona teacher salary ranks near the bottom, $13,000 under the national average. What teacher would choose to come to our state when politicians like Senator Ugenti-Rita refer to them as “terrorists,” and at the same time hold school budgets hostage?

I have never in my 18 years in the classroom been called a terrorist. I was teaching in my home state of Oklahoma on the day Timothy McVeigh blew up the Alfred P. Murrah federal building, killing 168 Americans, 19 of which were children. Is that what Senator Ugenti-Rita is imagining when she called teachers terrorists? Is that what she calls her children’s public school teachers on Meet the Teacher nights?

Our teachers and school support staff come to work every day because they believe in making a difference in the lives of our students. They believe a quality public education for every child will create a better future for us. They could work in another state or in another field, but they make the choice to work in an Arizona public school.

Our state’s leaders should be grateful for this dedication, instead they are taking pot shots at teachers sitting in the Senate gallery on their day off to support more resources for their students. When Senator Ugenti-Rita called teachers terrorists on the Senate floor, she knew the teachers in attendance couldn’t defend themselves from the gallery without getting thrown out by the Sargent at Arms. Sadly, it’s easy for politicians like Senator Ugenti-Rita to throw vindictive insults at teachers in an environment that makes disrespecting teachers the norm.

This hatred Senator Ugenti-Rita has for teachers can only come from a place of extreme ignorance about what teachers do and what happens in our classrooms. So, we invite her or any legislator to see for themself how teachers are inspiring a love of learning in our next generation of great thinkers and inventors.

Come see caring and certified teachers use their masters’ degrees in the study of childhood learning and pedagogy to help students to gain a deeper understanding of subject matter and apply their learnings to their own personal experiences outside the classroom. Come see teachers spending their own money on classroom supplies. Spend time with teachers as they work beyond contract hours to make calls to parents and work with them to help their children succeed. Or talk with the parents because what I know is that anyone who has even a small amount of understanding of what teachers do and how they accomplish what they do with less, would never call teachers “terrorists.”

They would thank them. They would support them. They would fully fund public education. They would ensure that our teachers were paid better than in neighboring states. They would do everything they could to keep those teachers in the classroom and not give them a reason to ever think about leaving. Our teachers and their dedication are the best part about Arizona’s public schools and it’s time our state’s leaders acknowledge that. When we have leaders who support our teachers, our state will have a public education system that doesn’t rank 50th in the nation. When voters elect leaders who make public education a priority, then the teacher shortage crisis will be solved. Elected leaders like Senator Ugenti-Rita have proven that public education is not a priority. It’s up to the voters to show whether they agree with her.

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Keeping the Promise of Quality Public Education

With more than 20,000 members, the Arizona Education Association (AEA) is the largest professional association for public school employees in Arizona. AEA members are teachers, community college professors, counselors, speech pathologists, bus drivers, secretaries, retired educators and student teachers and they belong to more than 150 local affiliates across Arizona.