More students enrolling in teacher-prep programs at Arizona's state universities

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Posted at 6:13 PM, Apr 28, 2021

There are glimmers of hope in the ongoing battle to strengthen Arizona's teacher pipeline.

ABC15 analyzed enrollment trends at the state's public universities, which found more students are enrolling in teacher-prep programs.

Arizona State University is seeing a steady increase in the number of students enrolled in teacher-prep programs for the past three years, which comes after six years of annual declines from 2011 through 2017.

The University of Arizona is holding relatively steady when it comes to the number of students completing their teacher prep in full since 2018, and Northern Arizona University is seeing more students enrolling in teacher prep programs since 2019, with a big jump in the current fiscal year, according to data.

ABC15 sat down with five of those students who are aspiring to teach the next generation to get their take on the state of education in Arizona.

"I'm majoring in secondary education chemistry and secondary ed math," said Victor Gastelum, a junior at NAU. "My goal is to be a high school teacher."

"I feel more alive and happy than ever when I'm in the classroom," said Barb Anderson, who lives in Tucson but is pursuing her Masters degree through NAU.

"To get through that subject or that concept that they're stuck at, and to push through and connect with them, like that puzzle is what really drives me for this," said Sarah Huish, who is also pursuing an education degree through NAU.

Upon graduation, all of them intend on staying in Arizona for at least their first year of teaching. Their optimism and excitement is obvious, even from behind a screen.

"I mean, you have the power to change someone's whole life," said Anderson.

"The kids that are in our classrooms, they're going to be in charge one day," said Kaela Juarez, an ASU masters student. "Seeing that growth in them and I guess, their progression as human beings as well."

Still, they admit Arizona's education reputation needs work.

"Coming from California, you always hear the, 'you’re going to Arizona to be a teacher, take some caution with you,'" said Gastelum.

"Right now, I currently have a class of 32 students," said Isabel Tello, who is currently a senior studying K-8 education at UArizona. "Has it been a challenge? Yes, it has."

"I think that, to be fair, the pandemic has highlighted systems that have not been perfected before the pandemic," said Huish.

Anderson and Gastelum said the march on the Arizona capitol three years ago solidified their decisions to pursue teaching.

"I actually drove up to Phoenix with my sons to take part in the march, just because I felt so passionate," said Anderson.

"We were amazed that people cared because we care so much. We know the teachers care so much, but they were parents, they were administrators, the public was out there," said Gastelum.

They agree there is more work to be done.

They hope for smaller class sizes, more support in the classroom, more flexibility and funding for public school districts, and a more intentional focus on equity and inclusion.

However, they also say it is not about politics or paychecks; it is passion pushing them forward.

"To be a teacher you have to have that passion, or else it’s going to run out really quick," said Tello.

"You can have all the fame and fortune you want but if I can help student A and B succeed, that’s all that I want," said Gastelum.