Arizona teachers across the state are getting bigger paychecks when they go back to school this year.
The raises promised by Arizona Governor Doug Ducey in the face of increasing pressure from the #RedForEd movement have re-invigorated two generations of educators in one Tempe family.
Kirsten Peters has been an educator in Arizona for almost 17 years, most recently as an English teacher at Tempe High School.
Tempe Union High School’s Governing board chose to give all of its teachers a $7,549 raise, a 10 to 19 percent boost.
Starting teachers with a bachelor's in the district make $46,137.
“At this point I’m not thinking about having a savings,” Peters said. “I’m thinking about having a normal life.”
'Being The Child Of Teachers I Never Really Knew Any Different'
Kirsten Peters opens the door to her classroom at Tempe High School, for the first time since summer school ended about a month ago and looks over the rows of white desks.
“It’s a small classroom. They tell us to set up our rooms for about 36 people,” Peters said. “Sometimes I’ve had 38, 40.”
There are colorful posters and tapestries on the wall. The cabinets are full of pencils, pens, poster boards — anything you’d need for a class project — all bought with Peters’ money.
“My kids just kind of know this class as a place they can go if they need something,” Peters said.
She also bought the books on the shelves. Catcher in the Rye is required reading, but the school doesn’t have enough copies to share between the teachers.
“I wanna say it’s a struggle, but also being the child of teachers I never really knew any different,” Peters said.
The single mom of two says living on a teacher salary has never been easy.
When her car needed $350 in repairs and a new windshield recently, she could pay for it, but only because she taught summer school.
“Along the way we’ve had our water shut off. We’ve had our electricity shut off a couple times,” Peters said. “My son doesn’t know this because I hid it pretty well.”
Balancing Passion, 'Having A Life'
The son she’s talking about is Isaiah Peters, a junior at Arizona State University.
Isaiah Peters was certain he was not going to be the third generation of Peters family teachers. He started college as a journalism major, then thought he might go into the biomedical field.
“Then I sort of bit the bullet and stopped hiding the thing like I’m not going to be my family,” Peters said. ”I like being a teacher so I might as well do that.”
Isaiah worried about whether he would be able to afford a house, how he would provide for his family one day.
“There’s that balance between finding something you like doing and finding something you can have a life with,” Peters said.
In recent years the number of education degree graduates in the state has dropped.
Preliminary numbers show this fall’s on-campus undergraduate enrollment at the ASU Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College is up almost 9 percent over last year. Education graduate programs online enrollment is 23 percent higher than last year at this time, while on-campus graduate enrollment is flat, according to Paul Gediman, the Colleges' marketing director.
Gediman said there could be a number of factors contributing to the increase, among them the spring's #RedForEd movement. He’s seen a few of the ubiquitous red shirts on campus.
“We think it’s great for students to see hear and feel how public education is at the center of public discussion,” Gediman said.
This spring’s teachers strike helped make Isaiah Peters more hopeful for the future.
He will graduate in 2020, the year Gov. Ducey promised teachers would see a 20 percent raise.
“I know she might be a little bit bitter that I’m starting off with more money,” he said, looking at his mom.
Instead Kirsten seems relieved.
“He could afford a decent living at the salary I’m making right now,” she said of her son.
As for Kirsten Peters, she isn’t planning anything extravagant for her earnings. She does want to start putting away money for graduate school.
Teachers in Kirsten’s district and many around the state can earn a few extra thousand dollars a year for continuing their education, but the upfront cost can be a barrier.
“When you have no money and you literally you can’t pay your water bill, how are you supposed to pay for grad school?” Peters said.
Tempe Union teachers will get their first full paycheck by the end of August.
“A couple days before we get the check we get our pay stub,” Peters said. “So I know what to expect, so that’s kind of of exciting.”
For more information or assistance, contact Governor Ducey's press office: (602) 542-1342.