Chris Gateley | Mustang News

The United States, and especially California, is facing a teacher shortage. More teachers are leaving the profession and less students are pursuing careers in teaching. The consequences of the shortage will be felt by upcoming K-12 students and thus the future workforce.

“We have a perfect storm of a number of factors,” Director of the School of Education and Department Chair of Kinesiology Kevin Taylor said. “People leaving the profession, a big retirement push and in certain areas demand is growing — there’s more kids.”

According to Taylor — who is researching the coming teacher shortage — experts not only saw the shortage coming, but concede that the shortage is overdue thanks to the 2008 recession delaying the next en masse retirement by baby boomers.

This is reaffirmed by the Learning Policy Institute’s (LPI) Report Addressing California’s Emerging Teacher Shortage: An Analysis of Sources and Solutions, which Taylor referred to as a primary source for his own studies. According to the report, one-third of teacher loss in California can be attributed to retirement, especially given that 34 percent of teachers in California are older than 50.

“There is a steady bleed of teachers out of the profession,” Taylor said. “It’s definitely an issue that needs addressing.”

Retirement only compounds the greater issue of teachers leaving the profession at high rates for the last several years. According to the California Teacher’s Association, one in three teachers leave within seven years, 13 percent leave by the second school year, and 1 in 10 transfer teaching at high poverty schools every year.

“We ask a lot of newly minted, newly qualified and credentialed teachers with low wages, particularly in areas in California where the cost of living is so high,” Taylor said. “It’s a hard road to stay in teaching for 30 years. It takes a lot of energy, a lot of enthusiasm, a lot of personal commitment and you’ve got to be intrinsically motivated.”

Resignations aren’t the only problem. Enrollment in California teacher preparation programs dropped 76 percent from 2001 to 2014. San Luis Obispo High School Principal Leslie O’Connor has seen this shortage first hand.

“Traditionally, six or seven years ago when I would put a job out there, and depending on social studies, math, whatever, you might have as many as 100 applicants,” O’Connor said. “Now we will see maybe 15 applicants.”

The LPI’s report cited a decrease in the number of teachers due to teacher layoffs during the recession, and increased demand for teachers, as some of the primary issues creating the shortage of applicants.

“I started going to recruiting fairs, and I went to one last year at Fresno State and there were 296 student–teacher candidates coming through,” O’Connor said. “I spoke to five, total. By the time they got to me in the building where the fair was at, many of them had already signed a contract.”

As for why there are fewer prospective teachers, Taylor recognizes a clear lack of respect for the teaching profession in American culture. This, combined with low wages and long hours, seems to be turning professionals away. 

“I think a lot of our teachers struggle with a lack of respect for education, and students do as well,” Taylor said. “A lot of our teacher candidates report that when they told their family ‘I’m going back to school, I’m going to be a teacher,’ typical responses were ‘Oh,’ or ‘Why would you do that?’”

O’Connor agreed with this, saying that this lack of respect is reflected in pay of other entry level jobs, especially those requiring STEM degrees.

“You come out with a college degree in engineering, or a college degree in math, or science or chemistry and you can probably get into any job you want to making minimum 50 or 60 thousand,” O’Connor said. “Meanwhile, teaching still requires a year of getting the credentials.”

Low pay for entry-level teachers is an even bigger problem in California, thanks to the ongoing housing crisis and the continually rising cost of living.

“I think it’s especially bad here because of the cost of living, to be honest,” O’Connor said. “We have more graduates going into higher paying jobs, and I think there’s more higher paying jobs available in the state of California than any other state in the nation.”

These factors have all contributed to the teacher shortage in California, as well as the rising population of K-12 students. The student-teacher ratio in the state is the highest in the nation at 24 to one, while the national average is 16 to one. The LPI reports that collectively, California districts would need to hire 135,000 additional teachers to bring the ratio to the national average.

Taylor and the LPI agree while money is part of the solution, there’s more to it. The LPI in particular recommends funding programs that incentivize entry into the teaching profession and assisting in entry, such as the CalTeach program

“Funding is absolutely at the heart of the issue,” Taylor said. “We need to prioritize education as a society, as a culture. We need to see this is important and we need to strategically fund it.”

Taylor believes the coming K-12 students will suffer the greatest losses because of the shortage.

“As class sizes go up it’s going to be hard for teachers to help students succeed and achieve,” Taylor said. “The kids are going to suffer directly because they have less access to their teacher, and then they’re going to suffer indirectly because it’s a harder environment and their grades are going to suffer.”

Taylor and O’Connor both voiced their support for programs that would decrease class sizes and produce better qualified teachers.

“If we don’t educate youth well, they become the criminals of the future that ruin the society in which we want to live,” Taylor said. “We aspire to be the greatest democracy in the world, and we have to educate our youth to live up to that because democracy is hard work and demands everybody participates.”

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