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OPINION: It's Time for Big Changes Among Teachers

With class sizes increasing, school days decreasing and instructional innovation at a standstill, one teacher says education should be treated more as a business.

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.

Capo mom June 15, 2012 at 01:22 PM
what he said.
M June 15, 2012 at 02:07 PM
Mike sounds like you're still subbing and not actually teaching right now. Don't judge one or two days of subbing for a teacher thinking they are giving students busy work. When a sub comes in teachers usually don't know who the sub is and usually assign work that a sub will be able to do in class that day. Most teachers realize that when they're out a day its a non teaching/learning day. As for not seeing technology in the classroom....wow that's arrogant of you. Teachers can apply for grants for technology but getting 35 or so computers in a classroom? It's expensive and unrealistic, usually there's a computer lab on campus and/or site technology is coordinated by the principal. Sorry, I get your frustration of not having a full time position but given your circumstances it's unrealistic for you to be judging what you see a day here and there from subbing. When you have a full time position then make your judgments. It's a tough profession to get into these days especially in this area. If you really want to teach then look outside orange county. I bet you'll have better luck.
Capo Parent June 15, 2012 at 03:06 PM
Excellent letter. CUSD desperately needs dynamic and innovative teachers such as you.This letter is another in a long line of examples of why seniority/tenure need to be abolished, and teachers need to be paid based on merit. Excellent & good teachers should receive excellent & good compensation and reasonable health benefits. I am leaving pensions alone because that is a whole other issue that needs to be addressed on a state if not national level.
d June 15, 2012 at 04:05 PM
It's hard to imagine anyone disagreeing wtih this. Now HOW???
concerned parent June 15, 2012 at 06:26 PM
What an articulate letter and one that took courage to write. How terribly sad that it's impossible for him to find a full-time job as a teacher--as CP said, he's a perfect example of why seniority/tenure is so wrong.
concerned parent June 15, 2012 at 07:35 PM
http://news.yahoo.com/blogs/lookout/sacramento-teacher-laid-off-144651918.html;_ylc=X3oDMTNucW51c2FpBF9TAzIxNDU4OTIzMDEEYWN0A21haWxfY2IEY3QDYQRpbnRsA3VzBGxhbmcDZW4tVVMEcGtnA2RkMTI3YWZjLWY5YmMtM2E5Yy1hZTY0LTQ5Y2RlOWIwZmFmZARzZWMDbWl0X3NoYXJlBHNsawNtYWlsBHRlc3QD;_ylv=3 I hope this link works--it shows that Sacramento's teacher of the year was just laid off because of budget cuts. AND because of an antiquated system that only looks at seniority, not worth of individual teachers. The system needs to change.
OC Mom June 15, 2012 at 10:11 PM
Thank you Mike for sharing your experience. I know that there were a lot of teachers who applied for OPA last year. There are a lot of out of work teachers. I agree with everything you wrote from first hand experience of seeing the difference between a teacher who puts in a lot of effort and one who does minimal. The situation you described about the ineffective teacher being moved around from school to school because he can't be fired is depicted in the movie, "Not as Good as You Think", a documentary about Middle Class suburban schools. It was referred to as the dance of the lemons in that movie. You may need to look for teaching jobs in other states and see if your family might benefit from moving. Teachers might not make as much money in other states, but the cost of living is less. I wish you luck and hope that things will change so that you can make a difference by teaching.
C June 15, 2012 at 10:52 PM
In 2005, school districts were not flush with money. However, teachers were not on a hiring/raise freeze and were willing to pour more of their own money back into their own classrooms. I was pregnant with my second child in 2005 and spending quite a large percentage of my paycheck on my classroom, as I was moving from one school to another due to a decrease in enrollment. 2005 was the beginning of the financial crisis for schools in California. I regret that you chose 2005 to change careers - and chose a career which was requiring fewer candidates - but I assure you that even if principals were given free reign to hand pick who they kept and who they eliminated from the profession, there would still be too many people going to school to become teachers today. Teaching is a "dream career" that people think will give them summers off, free time, and a sense of self worth. People new to the profession are convinced they will be better teachers than the teachers they perceive as worn out and too practiced. After about 5 years in the trenches, though, that notion goes by the wayside. A large percentage of new teachers leave by year 2 or 3 because the stress is too great. By the 5th year, humility sets in. The lessons you thought you could teach better than anyone else become dreams as you are hounded for tests and data with 50% more pupils than you had 2 years prior. I wish you luck, but do not criticize professionals for what you have not yet proven yourself capable of doing.
bbq June 16, 2012 at 12:55 AM
Mike, Hear, hear! I know there are thousands of good teachers out there who would love a job, even if they have to do it at the cut rate for the time being.
Capo Parent June 16, 2012 at 02:08 AM
Blame the clowns in control in Sacramento. They have withheld $7 billion that was due to education. They use cuts & withholding of funds to get the public to vote for big ticket items, like tax increase, so they can fund their favorite social program or programs. Until we get the clowns out of Sacramento, education will continue to spiral downhill.
Reality Check June 16, 2012 at 03:13 AM
I would not want my children taught by anyone who thought that his gender would improve his chances of being hired. That basis for "career planning" is a good argument for public employee unions and the protection they provide to society. Mike, please consider private schools, where you may indeed be allowed to "write your own ticket" simply because you are male.
Mike Casey June 16, 2012 at 04:30 AM
I am well aware that being a male teacher is no longer a plus. In fact, the disgusting acts of those two male teachers at Miramonte Elementary in the LAUSD and others, and even certain priests, have made it much more difficult for guys like me because we have to prove ourselves over and over again. All I'm saying is that I should have a chance to earn a decent living in the area where I've lived my whole life and where my family's roots are dug deep. That's all.
C June 16, 2012 at 05:00 AM
Mike. everyone should have a chance to earn a decent living in the area in which they choose to live. My husband was laid off because the field he was working in could not afford to keep as many employees as they used to. Shortly thereafter, companies started refusing to interview anyone who had been laid off and now many will only interview people who are still employed and would be leaving a job to take a position with their company. This seems insane to me. But that is how decisions are being made in the business world. Saying schools should be run more like businesses does not make education better. Children are not widgets and schools are not businesses. Again, I am sorry you chose to change careers at a time when the bottom started to fall out of the education budget, but it fell out of a lot of markets at the same time. School districts have tried different programs that have touted the benefits of a business model - they have come and gone over the years, but they always go. They go because schools are not businesses and there is never a perfect fit. Schools are for education, where minds are expanded, lives are enriched, and children are encouraged to experience art, music, and science, and to follow the paths to knowledge that work best for their minds. This teaching is done by teachers, not businessmen. And we are not paid by merit, because you can't measure the impact you've made on a child's life with a standardized test.
Capo Parent June 16, 2012 at 11:48 PM
Ironic. We can't measure teachers by standardized tests, but yet that is what we do to the students they teach. Teachers cannot be fairly evaluated if the evaluation is only based on standardized testing. However, standardized testing can be used as part of an overall evaluation of teachers.
Capo Parent June 16, 2012 at 11:50 PM
Conversely, I don't want my child taught by a union teacher who only has his or her job based on union seniority. I think your obvious zeal for public employee unions clouds your analysis and opinions.
Reality Check June 17, 2012 at 01:28 AM
Yes, Capo Parent. We know. You dislike experienced public school teachers with zeal that conflicts with your own. You like inexperienced, non-union teachers who you think will save you tax dollars Capo Parent would like to pay all teacher based on merit. As a cloudy-thinking public school teacher, I have no merit in Capo Parent's eyes. (Not even in pointing out that Mike's hope for gender-based hiring is illegal and appears to be a symptom of entitlement thinking.) Yet to Capo Parent, Mike DOES have value. He is "dynamic and innovative" based on.... his letter? his maleness? his desire to earn a living where he lives? I'm not sure it's my analysis that's clouded, CP. P.S. Mike, ALL teachers have to prove themselves over and over again. And none of us write our own ticket.
Penny Arévalo (Editor) June 17, 2012 at 01:49 AM
Good conversation here. Keep it going (and respectful). :-)
C June 17, 2012 at 05:48 AM
Capo Parent, It is not the teachers demanding that we judge the children with standardized tests, it is certain politicians - the same ones who want to judge teachers with test scores. Teachers know what to really look for - genuine growth and understanding of each child on an individual basis. If given the chance, teachers would eliminate state testing, gain more teaching time, and use far more effective means of evaluating students. More than anything, standardized testing tells you about the neighborhood in which a teacher is teaching. Low overall scores typically mean a low socioeconomic neighborhood in which parents are struggling to work the graveyard shift and then sleep while their kids go to school, then try to get homework done on little sleep but no time to do any extra academic review. Often there is a high language barrier or a high transiency rate because kids move often and aren't able to attend a full year of school when the parents have to move to stay employed. State standardized test scores say nothing about the efficacy of a teacher. But when you start telling teachers that they aren't effective because their neighborhood isn't one that scores high enough, you aren't making progress. And when you pay a bonus to a teacher working in an affluent neighborhood with high test scores, you aren't improving the system either. Merit pay is worse than pointless - it breaks the will of the teachers working in the areas that need the best, hardest-working teachers.
Teacher June 17, 2012 at 03:42 PM
Hi Mike, First, best of luck to you as you look for work. I'm rooting for you. I have to believe we all are. To your comment about the 2010 and 2011 reports that you claim stated that there would be "massive teacher shortages." I think you may have misread the reports. There will be shortages in mathematics, physics, chemistry and biology. But, on the elementary level, no one anticipates shortages (in California) for years. When we instituted 20-1, thousands of new teachers were needed immediately. Now that the money is not available to fund this program, thousands are looking for work. It is heartbreaking and I feel badly for all of them. I hope you keep the faith and find your job. You'll love teaching. The knowledge that you can really make a difference keeps you motivated to be great. All my best.
mb June 19, 2012 at 03:38 AM
Education will be run like a business when teachers can fire students and parents.
Denise Krane June 19, 2012 at 05:09 AM
mb, sounds like you are an advocate of vouchers. Welcome to the dark side.
mb June 19, 2012 at 07:04 AM
No, I'm not a fan of vouchers because I don't want to have my taxes support any wackos religious cult.
educator July 06, 2012 at 08:49 PM
What I don't understand is why universities keep recruiting students into the teaching programs. They lead recruited students into believing the teaching field is booming with jobs! I left a high salary job as a computer programmer because I saw the influence great teachers made on my child's education and I loved helping my daughter and her friends with homework. It inspired me to take that leap of faith and jump into the world of education. I also thought that perhaps I had an edge because I had a technology background but I was sadly mistaken. Like you, I went into the credential program in 2005 with high hopes. Those hopes were soon crushed as I began subbing and realized that was all I could get. Substitute teachers in my area only make $90 dollars a day. I couldn't survive on that so I had to take other part-time jobs. At one point, I was working 3 jobs just to make ends meet. I have a B.A, a multiple subject credential, and tons of technical experience but I can't find a fulltime elementary teaching job with any school district. I can't go back to the technology field because I've been away from it too long; the software I specialized in has now changed so much that companies only want people with recent experience. I know I have what it takes to be a great teacher because I'm often called back as a substitute or offered long-term assignments. I'm heartbroken that there are no elementary teaching jobs.

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