By Valerie Vinyard –
Cheerleader for K-12 Educators
So what makes a great teacher?
“You know one when you see one,” said Colleen Niccum, CEO of Tucson Values Teachers. “They are able to engage their students and help them learn and improve their skills. Each teacher is unique so it’s hard to quantify but you can see it when they teach.”
TVT serves as the only nonprofit organization in the state focusing solely on educators. It was established 10 years ago by the Southern Arizona Leadership Council and other business and education leaders to attract, retain and support teachers, following extensive discussions on ways to improve education in Arizona.
“After looking at all of the research, we felt we could have the most leverage if we focused on the teacher in the classroom,” Niccum said. “Teachers make all the difference when it comes to student success. Teachers matter more than any other aspect of schooling.”
For example, she said, studies have shown that students who draw two ineffective teachers in a row may never catch up to their peers.
TVT is working to reduce the huge turnover that haunts the profession – where about 50 percent leave teaching in their first five years. In Arizona, she said, a recent survey showed more than 2,000 openings across the state.
“The crisis that we face is that teaching is no longer considered a really desirable profession,” Niccum said. “Teachers are overwhelmed with a lot of requirements and demands, and it doesn’t pay well.” Teacher salaries in Arizona are among the lowest in the nation.
Yet despite the challenges, there are many talented and dedicated teachers in Tucson classrooms. When TVT held the Stand Up for Teachers event in April to honor award-winning teachers, COO Katie Rogerson spoke about the process in choosing the winners, noting that all the applications revealed teachers who were “all exceptional, and all very different,” she said.
“The stack of applications we received were from professional, innovative, out-of-this-world educators. Yet we rarely hear stories about teachers like these, so we want to change that.”
TVT offers several signature programs and works closely with business leaders to improve opportunities for teachers and to elect legislators who support a robust education system. To date, more than 11,000 teachers have signed up for TVT’s services on its website. TVT programs include:
Communications and Advocacy
TVT regularly communicates with a database of nearly 12,000 teachers and community members sharing news, opportunities for engagement, and research findings and reports. Its 2015 statewide teacher survey was the first conducted in Arizona and highlighted the issues facing the teacher workforce.
Teachers in Industry
A business-education partnership that features a University of Arizona master’s degree program for full-time STEM teachers who are placed as paid interns in area businesses as part of the program. Teachers gain direct experience about workforce needs and that experience impacts their curriculum, serving as a bridge between the classroom and business.
Teacher Discount Card
More than 90 businesses provide significant year-round discounts for all teachers. Discounts on goods and services include automotive, financial, health and wellness, home and furnishings, recreation, resorts, restaurants, retail and teacher supply discounts.
Awards and Recognition
TVT honors teachers and supporters through a variety of awards and recognition events throughout the year, including its monthly Teacher Excellence Awards featuring local teachers nominated by parents, students, school leaders and community members, the annual Raytheon Leaders in Education Awards and the Spirit of Education Awards, given to businesses and organizations that go above and beyond to support teachers and education in our community. It also organizes events and celebrations during Teacher Appreciation Week each year.
TVT has distributed more than 880,000 in supplies to teachers. In the past, supplies were purchased and distributed. That program evolved to $50 gift cards so teachers can purchase exactly what they need. This year’s goal is to reach $1 million in supplies for teachers.
While TVT has accomplished a lot so far, there is much to be done to lift education in Arizona. “When I talk to most people in the community about the local education crisis, people immediately want to help – but it’s such a big issue that they don’t know how to get their arms around it,” Rogerson said.
Niccum believes it’s going to take everyone in the community to push for adequate funding for teachers statewide. “If we really want economic prosperity, education must be a part of that,” she said.