California needs a plan to address impending teacher shortage

Kaylanie Saldua, Staff Writer

Keeping the teaching industry afloat is a constant challenge. In particular, California ranks last among states in student-to-teacher-ratio according to the California Teacher’s Association (CTA).

California faces significant obstacles: one in three teachers leave the profession within seven years, 13 percent of teachers leave the profession within their second year, and one in 10 teachers working in low-income schools transfer every year. According to CTA, for California to improve, the state would need to hire 100,000 teachers, in the few years to fulfill the demand.

So why is it so difficult to recruit teachers? Many students, having just spent 13 years in a K-12 system, are reluctant to choose teaching as a career, where they are committed to being confined to a classroom for decades more. Students see how their current teachers are often treated with a lack of respect.

America does not revere its teachers like other countries do. In China, teachers are revered just as doctors are. Americans, however, find their role models as movie stars and athletes, not their fifth grade teacher. But a teacher’s influence on students has been well documented. A study by Harvard University economist Raj Chetty reveals that replacing a bad teacher with a more qualified one can have economic benefits such as boosting a student’s lifetime earnings by thousands of dollars. For example a teacher in the top five percent, who is considered an excellent one, can generate about $250,000 or more additional earnings for their student.

In addition to the lack of respect, teachers are underpaid. A teacher’s starting salary in the state of California is around $39,000 according to Teaching Degree. In Lodi USD, the starting salary for a new teacher is around $42,000; that number doesn’t sound appealing when compared with salaries for other professions like engineers, whose starting salary is nearly doubled.

The negatives of being a teacher seem to drive students away before they can even hear the positives. The job schedules of teachers are a major advantage.Teachers typically work from 7 am to 3 p.m. which leaves time to enjoy their evenings when they aren’t grading papers. Teachers also have more vacation time than workers in the private sector; they have the weekends off; fall, winter and spring breaks; and two months of summer vacation as well. Teachers also have a pension plan known as a defined benefit plan that provides retirement, survivor and disability benefits. Their defined retirement benefit means that teachers don’t receive social security when they retire; instead, they pay into CalSTRS, which guarantees them a paycheck for life after they retire.

Teaching is a reward in itself, too. Teachers have the ability to inspire their students and to find potential in everyone. They can instill a love of learning into a child or make them feel valued. Teachers establish connections with their students, and those connections are not only school-related but also personal. Teachers often deal with an array of students with different issues and have to create a flexible environment for students to be able to thrive in.

To encourage more students to become teachers, we need to reframe the way teachers are viewed. To attract more qualified candidates, the teaching profession needs to do better at training and retaining qualified teachers.

Although college students are often steered away from liberal arts majors or teaching programs, they don’t see education as a way to work influence societal changes — such as social work, community organizing or plans to return home and give back to their communities.

According to the “Washington Post, “millennials aged 18 to 29 are the most pessimistic about the teaching profession because they see teaching as less viable agent of social change. But those who do consider teaching see how it offers limitless opportunity for self-exploration, personal growth, creative expression and a strong sense of social purpose.