This is the True Story ……

This is the true story of 6 teachers in Arizona. Find out what happened to them when reality stopped being nice and teaching got real.

Kellie Walsh has been in education for 16 years. She has a vast amount of professional knowledge which has helped her to teach 5th grade, kindergarten, first grade and second grade. In 2010, after burning herself out with dealing with all of the behavior issues that go along with a low income school, Kellie left the classroom to use her Master’s degree as a high school counselor. After two years, Kellie did return to the classroom. She currently teaches kindergarten in Tucson. With all of her years of experience and a Master’s degree, she is making $39,000 a year.

Crissy Herrera was one of those amazing first grade teachers that you wished your child would get. She would create crafts, events, and all kinds of projects for her students. Every year, she would cook a Thanksgiving feast for her kids and she would build a replica of the canopy of a rain forest on the ceiling in her classroom. I used to tease her that she wouldn’t need to teach if she didn’t spend so much on her students. She taught first grade for seven years. When she left the classroom in 2010, she was making $29,000 a year. I asked if she would ever go back and she responded that she wouldn’t because teachers don’t make enough to be worth missing time with her family.

Nicole Starman taught in Tucson for seven and a half years. Her health became a major concern and she was forced to leave the classroom. Then, her family relocated to Phoenix for her husband’s work. After five years, Nicole decided to fill in as a substitute teacher once her own children started school. The school she subbed at saw how experienced and effective she was. They were able to draw her back into a full time position in the East Valley. With her bachelor’s degree and currently ten years of experience, Nicole’s contract amount is $44,000. However, Nicole is once again feeling the demands of the job and is contemplating a different career choice.

Gayle Kirkendall began teaching late in her life as a second career. She was one of those rare educators that you knew just had what it took. She had passion, empathy, and she was eager to learn and willing to challenge herself. She taught second grade and third grade in Tucson for 12 years. She also taught for two years in another state. She has a Master’s Degree and she achieved National Board Certification in 2010. Her current contract amount is $40,000. Gayle is moving to California at the end of this school year because she can no longer justify the sacrifices she makes to live here when her whole family is in California.

Ellen Harris began teaching as a long term sub when she took over Crissy Herrera’s classroom during a maternity leave. Since then, Ellen has taught first grade and third grade in her own classrooms. She is the only teacher in this picture who has not left the classroom. However, she can relate to the dilemma. Her husband was an engineer in Southern Arizona. He retired from that career and earned a degree to become a math teacher. After a year teaching high school and a year teaching middle school, he quit due to the amount of work that was required. When he made the decision, he told Ellen that he had no idea teaching would be so hard.

I am the last person in the picture. I taught second grade in Tucson for 8 years. That’s where I met all of these amazing educators. Thankfully, I did because I am not sure I would’ve lasted for as long as I did if I did not form such strong bonds with these ladies. However, after 8 years, I made the choice to quit teaching and I moved to Phoenix. I attempted other jobs for a year but I missed the classroom. I returned to teaching in 2013. Since then, I have achieved my National Board certificate and also graduated from Grand Canyon University with a Master’s degree. After teaching third grade in West Phoenix for three years, I now have 11 years of experience. My current contract amount is approximately $47,000.

This picture is from a dinner last week in which we all got together before Gayle left for California. It saddens me to think of the loss for our state. Gayle is a great teacher and our students deserve teachers like her. I know there are others like Gayle who have had it and are also considering leaving the field. I am sad to think about our classrooms if Nicole and Kellie decide to leave again. What can we do to keep them and teachers as effective as them in front of kids? I am sad to think about the kids who didn’t get the chance to be in Crissy’s classroom. I know there are other teachers who are just as creative as her that have left too. I am sad that our state desperately needs math and science teachers but we can’t meet the demands of their previous careers.

As my friends and colleagues shared our stories and memories around the dinner table, I was stunned to learn the differences in our salaries. We all teach in the same state with similar populations. We do have varying levels of education and certification but the differences don’t seem right. Our resumes are so similar that Gayle and I could change our names on each others yet there is nearly a $10,000 difference in our salaries. I don’t blame her for wanting to leave but I am heartbroken to see her go. I hope our state wakes up and addresses all of the issues that are forcing my colleagues out of our classrooms. Don’t you think our students need teachers like us?


Donnie Dicus

Donnie Dicus

Tucson, Arizona

My name is Donnie Dicus and I have been teaching in Arizona for 12 years. I came to Arizona from Southern Illinois to attend the University of Arizona in Tucson. I graduated in 2003 and began teaching second grade. I taught second grade in Tucson for 8 years before moving to Phoenix. I now teach third grade. I achieved National Board Certification in 2012 and I received my Master’s Degree from Grand Canyon University in 2015. I achieved a National Board Certificate in Middle Childhood Generalist in 2012. I’ve been teaching mainstream and SEI 3rd grade classrooms in the Cartwright School District in Phoenix since 2013. I taught 2nd grade and was a math interventionist in Tucson in the Amphitheater School District. I’ve been a technology coach and have helped teachers apply technology to improve instruction. I facilitate coaching cohorts for teachers going through the National Board process and organize peer groups at my site to pair new teachers with experienced teachers. In 2010 I was nominated as a Rodel Semi-Finalist for Exemplary teaching in 2010 and featured as a Teacher Leader in February 2016 by the Arizona K12 Center.
I have class pictures of every single student I have taught behind my desk on my wall. After 12 years, that is approximately 350 students. My students know that this is my Wall of Accomplishments. I am so proud of the difference I made in their lives. I became a teacher to make a difference and I strive to do so every day.

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