When I entered the teacher credential program in 2005, job prospects for teachers hadn’t looked that good in nearly a decade.
The opportunities for K-12 teachers in California’s public school system were golden; the primary grades (1-3) had 20-to-1 ratios, school districts were flush with money, and predictions were that thousands of new teachers were needed to replace the ones who would retire over the next couple of years.
For me, the prospects were even better. We'd just had our fourth daughter and the three others were already in school. I already had three years of experience in the school district as a substitute and two years as a personal academic tutor. On top of that, other teachers repeatedly told me a male elementary school teacher could practically write his own ticket.
But after four years of post-graduate school, one multiple-subject teaching credential, a master's degree in education curriculum and instruction and $60,000 in unpaid student loans, I’ve had only a handful of job interviews and no full-time teacher job offers within a 75-mile radius.
I never dreamed that becoming a teacher would turn into a nightmare for me and my family.
Yes, the downturn in the economy had plenty to do with it. Like cancer victims, it seems everyone knows someone these days who has lost their job recently and is looking for a new one. Careers have been lost and lives ruined— and those are only the short-term effects.
It has been four years since any new elementary schoolteachers have been hired fresh out of credential school in this area. Yet credential programs, from UC Irvine and Cal State Fullerton to online programs at National University and the University of Phoenix, continue to scour the country and recruit would-be teachers with promises of ample job opportunities on the horizon.
In Canada, a study from the Ontario College of Teachers surveying those who finished teacher’s college last spring showed that two-thirds (67 percent) of education graduates from Ontario’s class of 2009 were still unemployed or underemployed the following year. Furthermore, the unemployment rate among new teachers has risen to a staggering 24 percent — up from just 3 percent in 2006.
As a result, Ontario placed a “hard cap” on funding for newly enrolled education students, which means that once students leave teachers college they have a realistic chance of getting a job when they become available. The new cap in Ontario forced first-year classes to shrink by 885 students overall by 2012-13 — something this country should be considering to alleviate the glut of desperate, new teachers.
Obviously the report of massive teacher shortages that surfaced in 2010 and 2011 was greatly exaggerated, again partly because of the economic downturn and older teachers losing a huge chunk of their 401K savings. But who have been confirmed in the Capistrano Unified School District for 2012-13 don’t come close to the number of pink-slipped teachers in the district who are guaranteed to get their job back before any new teachers are hired.
Astonishingly, the number of new teachers hired in California dropped by 50 percent between 2009 and 2011, according to a report by the Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning. Think about that. No innovation or new learning techniques coming into the classroom. No new technologies helping students learn faster. No competition to keep older teachers performing at their highest level. And no input from California taxpayers on what they believe is the best way children should be taught.
In an online survey taken by USC Education Poll between April 26 and May 1, Californians said teachers have the most influence over educational success and said it was more important to hire new teachers than raise teacher salaries.
With the Capistrano Unified Education Association proposing to increase class size by 1.5 students across the board and ending the school year 15 days sooner in 2012-13, it’s time for education be run as a business, not a membership club. Education should be in the business of turning out intelligent students who can be productive members of society, instead of a place where as long as you pay dues and don’t commit a felony you are guaranteed a safe haven.
CUSD had a chance to make a statement during the teachers strike of April 2010 that it wanted only the best teachers in the district. But the Board of Trustees buckled under pressure from veteran teachers, media scrutiny and the majority of parents who chose to keep their children at home rather than send them to school.
Although there are many teachers who do an excellent job, they are also many in every school who take their job for granted. I have been in plenty of those classrooms: dirty and disorganized, with mounds of papers stacked everywhere, no use of new technology and no classroom design that allows for increased student interaction and learning. Rather, there's a lack of innovation in favor of repetitive “busy work” for students.
I once substituted in a third-grade CUSD classroom that looked like a 1940s classroom: desks spaced evenly in rows, nothing on the walls but charts of math problems, no reading books, no library time, no classroom interaction and lots of long recesses. The teacher, I learned, would alienate the teaching staff and parents so much that he was transferred every couple of years to another school. But he has been a teacher for more than 20 years and continues to work in the district. Go figure.
What business today would continue to employ someone who disregards best practices? Only ones where the employee is protected by a union.
I’m not saying I deserve a job as a teacher, or that I’m owed anything because of my post-graduate education, my dedication as a substitute throughout the past nine years or my desire to become a role model for the many children who need someone in their lives who cares what happens to them.
But I am saying I deserve an opportunity to compete for a job as an everyday classroom teacher.
Mike Casey is a freelancer for Patch.