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Monday, August 2, 2021

COMMENTARY: Investing in our teachers is what our students need most

Liv Ames / EdSource

Kindergarten teacher Jana Herrera at Booksin Elementary in San Jose discusses a story written by Casandra Lopez Monsivais.

While the pandemic upended our lives, it also brought into focus the vital role teachers play in the day-to-day lives of our students and communities. As we prepare to welcome students back to classrooms this fall, we recognize the incredible contributions of our educators during an immensely challenging time.

At the same time, California is confronting a teacher shortage, a long-standing crisis for the profession and our public school students further exacerbated by the pandemic. Fewer teachers in the classroom will disproportionately impact the most vulnerable students who have been hit hardest by the pandemic and puts a strain on current teachers.

There are notable investments in teachers described in this year’s final state budget that acknowledge the need to solve this problem. Investing in a qualified workforce is one of the most important steps California can take to support our educators and meet the academic and social-emotional needs of our students.

California was just beginning to make progress in addressing the teacher shortage in 2019-20, but we still weren’t recruiting or producing enough teachers to fill our classrooms annually. Almost 18,000 new teacher credentials were issued in California in 2019-20, but not nearly enough to fill over 48,000 open teaching positions according to EdJoin, an education job site.

A March 4 report from the Learning Policy Institute underscores California’s critical teacher shortage problem by stating how the pandemic has led to a rising number of early retirements and resignations. And further complicating matters is California’s long-time substitute teacher shortage.

What’s more, there are troubling signs indicating waning interest in joining the profession as more seasoned teachers look to leave the field. In February, CalSTRS reported that teacher retirements have increased at rates not seen since the Great Recession. Not only did retirements increase during the Great Recession, but almost 30,000 teachers were laid off.

These trends tell us that, in the year ahead, we will need to recruit and retain even more teachers to accommodate our student and staffing needs. The encouraging news is that extensive research exists. The Learning Policy Institute’s work, for example, provides a road map for how to tackle the shortage. By following that road map, and by working collaboratively to scale successful programs and practices, we can make a difference. Strategies we need to expand include:

  • Increasing pathways into the profession with teacher residency programs that focus on mentorship and individualized hands-on support.
  • Harnessing the power of technology to offer cost-effective networking opportunities for aspiring and current teachers and professional development support. In our work at the California Center on Teaching Careers, we’ve placed over 1,528 aspiring and current teachers in classrooms across the state, and over 15,000 educators, school leaders and employers from across the world have connected through virtual job fairs.
  • Offering training resources such as micro-credentials for substitute teachers that will allow them to demonstrate specific skills and strategies, including the ability to use multiple learning platforms. This could be built off the work of the California County Superintendent’s Teacher Development’s Curriculum and Instruction Steering Committee (CISC) which included collaboration with Tulare, Fresno, Orange, Riverside, Merced and Sonoma county offices of education started this year.
  • Expanding support for grow-your-own programs, where school districts can nurture future teachers, including providing guidance and toolkits with best practices for people at the district managing these programs.
  • Defining a clear path in the process to becoming a teacher that is easy for all to understand. This should include providing guidance counseling sessions to help aspiring teachers understand requirements and timelines.
  • Eliminating or reducing financial barriers into the profession through scholarships or subsidizing training program costs for aspiring teachers.
  • Addressing long-standing economic and professional barriers that keep many teachers from entering and remaining in the classroom. Recent flexibility in the tests required to earn a teaching credential is a start. Covering credentialing fees in the upcoming school year will also help.
  • Investing in intentional and sustained practices to increase teacher workforce diversity, like those outlined here.

This is a pivotal moment in our state’s ability to proactively meet the demand for passionate, qualified teachers. We cannot take our foot off the accelerator. How we tackle the teacher shortage now will make a difference in the success of California’s students for years to come.

•••

Donna Glassman-Sommer is the executive director of the California Center on Teaching Careers based out of the Tulare County Office of Education. Marvin Lopez is the program coordinator of the center.

The opinions in this commentary are those of the authors. If you would like to submit a commentary, please review our guidelines and contact us.

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