A snake slithered into a classroom in Arizona and it’s not the first time it’s happened.
There’s nowhere to hide. High school theater teacher Alexandra Stahl’s classroom is in a storage closet.
“My classroom was built to be a storage room. I am right by an exit without proper weather stripping,” the San Tan Valley teacher told CNN. “It took my students having parents call our district office to get an exterminator out to the school. We have black widows, snakes, crickets, rats. A teacher got stung by a scorpion yesterday in her classroom.”
Stahl is one of many teachers across Arizona who participated Wednesday morning in “walk-ins” before class. The teachers are rallying for higher salaries and a more manageable student-to-teacher ratio.
Arizona ranks 43rd in the nation in terms of how much it pays its teachers, according to the National Education Association.
Between the snake and the poor classroom conditions, Stahl worries about the safety of her students. The conditions are also a distraction from class time.
“Some (students) freak out and some are so used to it, it doesn’t phase them. It definitely interrupts instructional time,” she said.
Stahl, who has been a teacher for four years, said she spends about $1,000 per year on her students. Her husband is also a teacher and he spends a similar amount for classroom supplies.
“Facilities are in disrepair,” she said. “This isn’t just about teacher pay. I want the state to realize that teacher working conditions are student learning conditions.”
In another classroom, a tower of ragged Spanish textbooks sit on a desk as a reminder of Arizona’s crumbling educational funding.
Jay Figueroa, a Spanish teacher of 24 years, worries the state is “trying to dismantle” the education system. He teaches at a high school in Glendale, Arizona, and participated in Wednesday’s protests.
Many of the biology textbooks in Dawn Myers’ classroom were published in 1999 – they’re older than most of her students.
The Tucson high school teacher says she spent more than $1,000 of her own money on her classroom last year. She’s been teaching for five years.
“Each year for my birthday in July, I ask for supplies for my classroom on an Amazon wish list instead of gifts,” she told CNN.
She says she’s concerned the state is spending less than it did on education a decade ago.
“Amazing teachers can’t afford to pay their student loans, to send their own kids to college,” she said. “I myself work three jobs and have no idea how teachers that have kids make ends meet. I guess the answer to that is they don’t and that is only a small reason for why we are doing this.”
Myers is leaving next year to attend a doctoral program at Columbia University, so the raise won’t help her personally.
She says she plans to teach her first year in New York and expects to make double what she earns now even with the increased cost of living.
“I’m fighting for our kids. I think we need to focus on the overall lack of funding in this state. Our kids deserve better than this. I will fight for them no matter where I live,” she said.