A student waits to ask a question at Thomas Elementary School in this file photo.

Second in a two-day series

Sara Henderson moved to Arizona for a teaching position in 2013 and left in 2015 after her husband finished his physician residency at the University of Arizona and the family moved to Flagstaff. She’s debating whether she wants to go back to teaching. She's the second teacher that the Arizona Daily Sun has talked to about leaving the profession.

Henderson has a bachelor's and master’s degree and taught English language learners and special education students in Chicago for two years before moving to Arizona with her husband during his  residency in Tucson. She taught kindergarten for English language learners in Tucson for two years. She hasn’t taught in an Arizona school for about two years.

Her salary at her school in Tucson was several thousand dollars less, even with a master’s degree, than what she had been making with a bachelor’s degree in Illinois, she said.

Henderson arrived shortly after Arizona did away with teaching ELL students in bilingual classes. Her kindergarten classroom consisted of about 25 ELL students who spoke four to five different languages. They were mainly kids who were refugees from different parts of Europe and Africa, she said. Teaching English as a second language to students who don’t know the language well is difficult; it’s even more difficult when they don’t know English at all and you don’t speak their native language.

The district was also so strapped for teachers who could teach English language learners that when one teacher left halfway through the year, her school combined third, fourth and fifth grade ELL students into one class with a total of 24 students with one teacher. At that point, you effectively become a glorified babysitter, she said, because there’s no way a teacher can teach an ELL student at the language level that they’re at, Henderson said.

It was the opposite of everything she learned about dual language education in her master’s program, she said.

Henderson said she started recommending to some of her students’ parents that they opt their child out of ELL and put them in a mainstream class, because they would learn more from modeling their English speaking classmates.

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Henderson said she was also frustrated with state funding for education, including teacher pay.

“I taught with some outstanding teachers,” she said. Some of them had been teaching for more than 15 years. A couple had been teaching for around 30 years. But they hadn’t had a pay raise for around seven years. Teachers with 15 and 30 years’ experience were making the same or less than new teachers.

Henderson also noticed that teachers at the district were either very new, with maybe one or two years of experience or had lots of experience, 15 years or more. There weren’t many teachers with between five and 15 years of experience, which she thought was the idea time in a teaching career. At that point you’ve been in the classroom long enough that you know what you like and don’t like and you’re up on the latest changes in the field and you can also be a mentor to newer teachers.

Also, students didn’t come to school with supplies, Henderson said. The teachers were expected to provide those supplies. Teachers received about $200 from the district to buy all of the supplies their students would need for the entire year. Henderson spent about $1,000 out of her own pocket each year to make sure her classrooms had the necessary supplies.

At the same time, she was struggling to provide for her new son. The school was not open to the idea of job sharing or having her teach for half the day and having someone else teach the rest of the day. The school did gave her time and space before school, after school and during lunch to pump breastmilk for her son, but there never seemed to be enough time to relax, set up, pump and do lesson plans for the day. It isn’t easy to multitask while pumping and stress can affect how much a mother is able to pump.

After a while, Henderson and her husband decided it wasn’t worth the money and the hassle. She stopped teaching.

“I wasn’t doing the best job for my students or our own children,” she said.

The family moved to Flagstaff about a year ago, when Henderson’s husband found a job in the area. She’s now taking care of their second son and debating if she will go back to teaching. She said loves teaching but the family doesn’t currently need a second income and she likes being able to spend time with both of her sons.

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The reporter can be reached at sadams@azdailysun.com or (928)556-2253.


Education/Business Reporter

Suzanne writes about education and business. She covers the local school district, charter schools and Northern Arizona University. She also writes the Sunday business features.

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