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The Teacher Shortage: Restoring a Noble Profession

This article originally appeared in the VC Reporter Power to Speak op-ed section and is reprinted with permission.

Books and pencils in front of blank chalkboard.

With all the political distractions in the news, one critical issue seems to get very little attention. This is the impending teacher shortage. I use the term impending because here in Ventura County, we have not felt the pain of the teacher shortage in quite the same way as other areas of the state. That will not be the case for long, however.

One significant factor contributing to the shortage is that young high school and college-age students are simply not choosing teaching as a career. In fact, the Learning Policy Institute (LPI) has reported a 73% enrollment decline in California teacher preparation programs since 2002. According to LPI, more than 75,000 candidates were enrolled to become teachers in 2002 compared to just over 20,000 in 2016. Looking at the same years, the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC) reported a 47% decline in new teacher credentials issued, with 29,556 in 2002 dropping to 15,440 in 2016. This means each year we are sending fewer new teachers into the profession to take the place of retiring baby boomers and fill the openings created by increased population. In short, we are not preparing enough new teachers to sustain our school system.

In Ventura County, some school districts are already experiencing teacher shortages, especially in the areas of special education, mathematics and science. In other parts of the state, particularly rural and urban districts, shortages are impacting almost all subject areas. LPI’s 2017-18 survey revealed that 80 percent of California’s school districts reported some type of teacher shortage.

There are two overarching questions that need to be addressed. First, how do school districts fill positions when they cannot find credentialed teachers? And second, how do we encourage young people to pursue teaching as a career?

When someone fully qualified cannot be found to fill a teaching position, the default process is to issue a provisional or short-term teaching permit. In the 2016-17 school year, CTC issued 5,710 permits to fill vacant teaching positions. Oftentimes, the recipients of these permits do not have expertise in the subject that they will teach or any experience in teaching strategies and classroom management. California’s children deserve better.

Another solution is fast-tracking individuals through alternative non-traditional teacher preparation programs. When candidates go through alternative programs, the clinical field experience, often referred to as student teaching, is reduced or eliminated. Research has shown that the best-prepared teachers are those who spend a significant amount of time practicing their skills in a classroom where they can co-teach and co-plan with a mentor teacher who provides feedback and professional guidance. Often, those who go through alternative programs know their subject matter well but are less prepared in classroom management and teaching strategies, both of which are essential for teacher effectiveness and student success.

It is incumbent upon us all to figure out how to make the profession of teaching appealing to our young people who are making career choices. We know the many factors that make teaching a less-appealing career choice. They include low salaries, lack of supplies (resulting in out-of-pocket expenses), lack of parental support and student behavior issues. These have been issues for a long time and need to be addressed at the highest levels with policy changes. Additionally, there is a great deal of politicization of the teaching profession, which further contributes to its low appeal.

There are many state initiatives in place to recruit more people to the profession. Special funding exists for projects to transition para-professionals to teachers, provide additional support for more bilingual teachers, offer grants for preparing special education teachers, and provide money for new teacher residencies. Though all of these are great initiatives, they are all short-term with limited funding and no guarantee of continuance.

Our most precious resources, our children, need teachers who are going to nurture and prepare them to become productive citizens who can achieve their dreams. We know that having high quality teachers in the classroom is vital to the academic achievement of our children, yet somehow, we fall short in honoring teaching as a noble profession.

It is time for school districts and universities to recognize that it is a joint responsibility to prepare new teachers by committing to partnerships that professionalize teacher preparation in the same manner as physicians, lawyers, and other professionals are prepared. Lastly, it is time for the state to put long-term funding behind school-university partnerships in the form of residency stipends, loan forgiveness and making the other initiatives mentioned here permanent. This will create a highly prepared and professional teaching force to sustain California’s schools long into the future.

Michael N. Cosenza is an associate professor of education in the Graduate School of Education at California Lutheran University and vice president of the California Council on Teacher Education.

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