Pay, housing costs leading teacher shortage
Sherwood Elementary students looked up in awe at the vibrant pages from "The Big Orange Splot," which was being read to them by their second-grade teacher Oscar Ramos on Tuesday.
As housing costs, pay and off-the-clock job expectations discourage people from entering the teaching profession, 20-year veterans like Ramos may become rare in the near future, educators say.
Ramos is the Salinas Elementary Teacher Council president, California Teacher’s Association human rights representative and an educator at Sherwood Elementary School who knows all too well about the teacher shortage afflicting California.
According to the CTA, a third of teachers statewide are reaching retirement, and the association cites the Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning in estimating that 100,000 additional teachers will be needed in the next decade.
In response, the Monterey County Office of Education has been trying to help recruit teachers by holding full-day educational workshops, including one happening this weekend in Soledad.
Ramos said the biggest detractor for somebody looking to become a teacher in the Salinas City Elementary School District is a financial one. Young teachers coming in will first look at pay and won’t look at benefits until after the fact, said Ramos.
A new teacher in the Salinas City Elementary School District with a bachelor’s degree can currently expect to be making slightly over $45,000 per year, according to Ramos.
Expensive housing in Salinas is one of the biggest factors that contribute to the retention rate for teachers, said Ramos. According to the most recent date from Apartment List, a one-bedroom apartment in Salinas has an average rent of $1,640.
“Some of our teachers who come in can’t afford rent on their own because they’re straight out of college. They have student loans and they have other debts and the only thing they can afford is to rent a room in someone’s house,” said Ramos. “I believe we have some that are living day-to-day in a hotel room until they find something.”
“Unfortunately, school districts are competing against one another for available teachers,” said Salinas Union High School District Superintendent Dan Burns. “That has nothing to do with their expertise level or their credential levels. We’re all doing what we can to compete.”
Burns said there are many variables that go into starting budgets for teacher salaries, including trying to raise the lower end number for newer teachers while balancing increases for veteran teachers. Retirement funds also need to be considered.
“The state retirement has also imposed a different way of trying to make their fund whole,” said Burns. “We’re seeing increases in the amount of contributions school districts have to make to the state retirement system for both teachers and non-teacher employees. That’s a huge impact on budgets everywhere.”
According to the CTA, 17 percent of new teachers leave teaching after the first five years.
Non-credentialed teachers are being given full-time jobs at schools because of the dire need for teachers. Ramos said the SCESD currently has a lot of interns, who are not fully credentialed, working as full-time teachers in schools.
Beatriz Chaidez, assistant superintendent for the Salinas City Elementary School District, said there are more than 60 teachers out of 400 that hold provisional, short-term staff permits or internship credentials currently working at the district.
Shelly Moor, superintendent for the Santa Rita School District, said that while her district isn’t strongly impacted by the teacher shortage in California, they also have some non-credentialed interns working as full-time teachers.
However, Moor said that they do offer more than $50,000 for new teachers with a bachelor’s degree, plus a cleared credential, and they are planning on a three percent increase shortly. Moor said her school district compensates teachers for the days they have to work outside of the regular school hours as well.
Ramos said he feels money management is key. Districts across the state are spending money on areas like programs they don’t use, instead of working to increase pay for teachers, he said.
“Teachers are the ones that make the difference, not a computer, not a new program,” said Ramos. “Investing in teachers, and not things, should be a start because we make it work.”
The teacher shortage has translated to more stress for teachers like Ramos in the form of more off-the-clock hours, more students per teacher and continuous hiring by school districts.
"We're experiencing shortages to the degree that we're continually hiring from the springtime in April through the summer," said Chaidez. "That's been the case over the last two years where we're hiring two weeks before school starts."
Ramos said the result is less one-on-one time with students and notes that discipline is harder to instill in a crowded classroom. According to the CTA, California has the highest student-teacher ratio in the nation at 24 to 1.
“The more students you have in a classroom, the better are the odds that you’re going to have students falling through the cracks,” said Ramos.
Teachers are overworked with high-class sizes and little to no student aides at their disposal, said Ramos.
Teachers are also expected to contribute time outside of their regular school schedule to plan, grade and collaborate with colleagues, he added. Teachers usually work 10 to 12 extra hours a week outside of their normal schedule, Ramos said.
Carol Rodriguez, a special education teacher at Boronda Meadows, said the teacher shortage has a greater impact on special education teachers, which will only worsen if school districts decide to require both a general education credential and special education credential in the future, which she believes is likely to occur.
Rodriguez said the prospect of teaching special education can be a daunting one as well.
“We need more behavioral tools in our toolbox, more of an idea on how to shape behavior in the classroom that general education teachers have some knowledge on, but not to the degree we do,” said Rodriguez. “Maybe they haven’t been around special ed students and so they’re not as likely to think about it as a career choice.”
Both Rodriguez and Ramos feel that teachers are considered last in terms of providing input on curriculum and policies for the district, even though they are told everyone needs to work together.
“A lot of it feels like lip service and when it comes to respecting our knowledge and training, then I feel like I’m not respected,” said Rodriguez.
Burns countered that he feels SUHSD does a great job of including teachers in different facets and notes they have been recognized for it on many occasions.
“In our district, there’s almost not a day in the week that we don't have teachers involved in professional development or opportunities to develop curriculum,” said Burns.
Rodriguez added that there has also been a stigma on teachers for a number of years now with the public questioning their efficiency and teaching in general, which she said paints a very negative picture for the youth looking at a career.
Ramos said that while verbal recognition is great for teachers, there needs to be more done for proper compensation, not only from school districts but from the community as well. Parents have the power to help, he said.
“We need parents to be a little more vocal about decisions being made about curriculum, about class size, enrichment programs because ultimately they’re the ones that will make the biggest difference in instituting these changes,” said Ramos. “It’s the parents who need to step up and say this is what we want for our children.”