San Francisco Area Sees Teacher Shortage, No End in Sight

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A teacher shortage in the San Francisco Bay area has resulted in competition over teaching positions for qualified teachers, with temporary teachers maintaining classrooms in the meantime.

Officials say the cause of the shortage is a combination of retirements, high attrition rates, and a low number of new teachers coming in.

“It’s become an employees’ market versus an employers’ market,” said Scott Gaiber, San Francisco Unified director of certificated staffing and recruitment. “There is a lot more competition for talent.”

With fewer people interested in becoming teachers in the area, the issue does not see an end any time soon. In 2008, almost 45,000 students were enrolled in teacher preparation programs in the state. By 2013, that number dropped to less than 20,000, according to the state Commission on Teacher Credentials.

“That’s fewer teacher candidates enrolled,” said Mary Vixie Sandy, executive director of the commission. “That’s significant in terms of supply.”

Meanwhile, more money has been budgeted within the state to hire qualified teachers.

San Francisco Unified alone has hired 435 teachers this year, up from the 338 it hired last year. There are about 3,400 teachers total within the district. While there were only 5 vacancies within the district at the beginning of the year, over 30 acting teachers were from the emergency pool, almost 3 times the number from last year.

Many of the emergency teachers were filling spots in special education, math, science, and bilingual classrooms, which are historically the hardest spots to fill.

“We needed more teachers, and yet fewer teachers were available to us,” said Angie Sagastume, San Francisco Unified’s executive director of certificated recruitment and staffing. “I think it’s worrisome for all of us.”

Despite this, over 30,000 teachers have been laid off in the last five or six years within the state due to state budget cuts.

Now that the budget is seeing more money, schools in general have more money, and those with low-income students and English learners are receiving even more funding, allowing more teachers to be hired.

In addition, a new state mandate is requiring a reduction in class size to a maximum of 24 students in grades K-3. During the recession classrooms had increased class sizes in an effort to save money, with some classes seeing over 30 students at a time.

Smaller class sizes require more teachers.

It’s a “perfect storm” for a teacher shortage, said Eric Heins, vice president of the California Teachers Association. “I think we’re on the very cutting edge of it,” he said.

Antioch Unified is one of the first districts to feel the effects of the storm. The school has over 800 teachers total, 60 of which do not have the correct credentials for the subject they are currently teaching. The district places student teachers in the classrooms to fill positions while they are still working toward their credentials.

“That kind of addresses some of the issue for us,” said Melanie Jones, certificated human resources director in Antioch. “We certainly have for a number of years hired intern teachers. That kind of helps get away from emergency teachers.”

However, the recent shortage of students in teacher preparation programs could put this in jeopardy.

According to education officials, the recession is to blame for the teacher shortage as it caused mass teacher layoffs. With fewer jobs available, the profession became less appealing. Teachers have also felt blame was placed on them for low test scores and other problems within schools, causing a negative view of the profession to be created.

In an odd twist, Uber, an alternative to taking a taxi, is helping teachers make ends meet.  The company has recently targeted school teachers in the San Francisco Bay area to come work for them and make up the money they are lacking.

Louis Freedberg, executive director of EdSource, a nonprofit education research company based in Oakland, suggests that the state create a “Be A Teacher” campaign to increase enrollment in the state’s teacher certification programs.

“Now is the time to recruit enthusiastic young people to the profession from California itself and not just those who want to spent two years in the classroom as a stepping-stone to graduate school,” Freedberg said.