Every so often, like the re-emergence of El Niño, the topic of a teaching shortage reappears on op-ed pages and talk radio.
California needed more than 21,000 teachers to fill positions this school year because the number of teacher candidates has declined by more than 55 percent, from 45,000 in 2008 to 20,000 in 2013, as reported by the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing.
With fewer people going into the teaching field, shouldn’t the powers that be examine how to increase interest in it?
Working conditions and salary clearly are not selling points.
Much of the negative aspects of teaching stem from the lack of control teachers have over their own profession.
Schools are still structured top-down as they have been for a century, with teachers viewed more as factory workers, not master-degreed professionals who can problem- solve without the intervention of those outside the classroom.
Teachers know how to improve their profession but do not have a voice in the matter, impotent in their subservient roles. How many college students would gravitate toward such a future career?
It wasn’t that long ago that the concept of site-based management was seriously championed as a way to involve teachers in the decision-making process at a school. But that grand idea vanished.
So, education bureaucrats continue to mandate so-called reforms such as Common Core standards and standardized testing that teachers are expected to deliver with little input.
Meanwhile, everyone goes about business as normal, not questioning why people don’t want to become teachers or why so many who do end up leaving within the first few years.
Clearly, there is a disconnect between those who work in the classroom and those who do not. Overlooked is the daily energy drain on interacting with upwards of 200 kids. Taken for granted is the amount of secretarial tasks performed by teachers: taking attendance, uploading homework, inputting grades, getting supplies, making photocopies.
And then there’s money. Teacher salaries do not reflect the education and training required nor the level of responsibility an effective instructor shoulders.
In fact, beginning teachers in Glendale can’t afford to live in the city.
Consider that the median price of a house in Glendale today is nearly $700,000, according to Zillow. After a 20% down payment, the $560,000 loan would result in a $2,500 monthly mortgage payment. The starting salary for a teacher in Glendale is $43,000, meaning the monthly take home pay is around $2,800. Add in property taxes and the teacher ends up in the red.
Harjot Kaur, my student teacher from Cal State University, Northridge, teaches three classes, then takes three classes on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, plus an online course—all unpaid.
So why does she make the financial sacrifice to train as a teacher considering she would not be able to live in the community in which she teaches?
“The low pay is devastating, but this is my passion so I push the reality aside and go on,” Kaur said.
Let’s face it. We all hope that selfless people join the military to protect our country. We all hope that decent people become firefighters and police officers to protect our society. And we all hope that quality people join the teaching ranks to mold our future commodity—children.
But hoping will only get so far. An overhaul of the teaching profession is long overdue. And it will take teachers themselves to blast the clarion call since those in the upper echelon of education show no interest in changing the status quo.
Is there any chance of that happening in our lifetime?
One can only hope.