‘Teaching in Arizona’ documentary draws capacity crowd in Flagstaff. See related news here

| October 24, 2018

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By the Coconino Coalition for Children & Youth

At the end of the presentation of the documentary “Teaching in Arizona,” someone said how happy they were that Tia Lei Tsosie-Begay — a 4th grade teacher at Los Ninos Elementary in Tucson who was featured in the film — still remained teaching to this day at her school.

In fact, many in the standing-room only audience became truly invested in the lives of those Tucson teachers, who struggled with overcrowded classrooms, shrinking educational funding and tempting offers for better paying jobs out of the state.

The documentary, which was presented Oct. 17 in the McGee Auditorium at Flagstaff Medical Center, provided an inside look at what it is like to be a classroom teacher. It brought to life the issue of teacher recruitment and retention by telling the personal stories of three teachers in public schools in Arizona.

Filming began in January 2018.

“We wanted to put a personal face on the issue and give people a feeling of what it’s truly like to teach in Arizona,” said Colleen Niccum, chief executive officer of Tucson Values Teachers. “We never could have predicted the momentus events that happened this year,” referring to the launch of the Red for Ed campaign in Arizona.

During the documentary, and the discussion that followed, such facts were highlighted as:

  • Arizona having a higher pupil-to-teacher ration than nearly every state in the nation
  • Teachers spending an average of $500 a year of their own money on school supplies for their classrooms
  • Arizona teachers working an average of 57 hours each week in the classroom, after-hours preparation and grading
  • An average of 42 percent of Arizona teachers leave the field within three years.
  • It takes the average Arizona teacher more than 25 years to earn a living wage

Joining Tsosie-Begay on the panel presentation were:

  • Patti Pastor, M.Ed, Flagstaff High School, Culinary & CTE Department Head
  • Joe Gutierrez, principal, Killip Elementary School
  • Mike Thomas, vice president of Operations, Kinney Construction Services
  • Lisa Molomot, TEACHING IN ARIZONA filmmaker

The panel was moderated by Steve Peru, president of the United Way of Northern Arizona.

Following the showing, teachers on the panel shared their personal stories of why they teach, including Pastor, who talked about an at-risk youth who overcome low grades, alcohol abuse and a troubled family life.

“Most members of his family were in a gang. … There were times he came to school with alcohol in his water bottle. He didn’t have good coping skills. He had a lot of struggles. His GPA when I met him when he was a sophomore was a 2.0,” Pastor said. “He had some rough times that year but the following year he came to me and said ‘Mrs. Pastor I would like to pursue a career in culinary.’ And I thought ‘Really?’ And so our journey began that year together and I’m really proud to say that that young man graduated Flagstaff High School with almost with a 3.0 (GPA), with a full ride culinary scholarship. He is a very successful chef in the Valley now. … When he graduated and I went to his family’s party, when I walked in everyone in the room stood because he was the first to graduate in his family from high school.”

Principal Gutierrez talked about the issues new teachers face when they enter the classroom, challenges of not having the materials and resources they need or having to pay for materials themselves.

“I got two teachers teaching with me that are working three jobs,” Gutierrez said.

The documentary was co-hosted by Tucson Values TeachersLAUNCH Flagstaff and Expect More Arizona, with the screening sponsored by the Arizona Community Foundation, the Coconino Coalition for Children & YouthKinney Construction ServicesNorthern Arizona Healthcare and the Rodel Foundation of Arizona

Upcoming screenings include:

  • 10/24: Central Arizona College in Coolidge
  • 11/1: Buena High School in Sierra Vista (register here)
  • 11/10: Junior League of Tucson (private screening)
  • 11/13: Heritage Center at Papago Park in Phoenix
  • 12/2: Bisbee Royale Theater
  • 12/5: STEMAZing Workshop at UA (private screening)
  • 2/7: City Center for Collaborative Learning in Tucson

Click here to request to host a screening.

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