As an education consultant with 11 years of experience as a teacher and school administrator, I am deeply concerned that our nation faces a dire teacher shortage. California ranks first among the top 10 states with teacher shortages, spanning the subject areas of early childhood education, language arts, mathematics, science and special education. By 2024, the United States can expect a deficit of about 200,000 teachers.
State and federal legislators must enact measures to alleviate the conditions causing teachers to quit. The public must demand action from legislators to stop the bleeding in our education system.
While there was a teacher shortage before 2020, the unprecedented coronavirus pandemic and ever-increasing work demands created a perfect storm. Many teachers reached a breaking point due to unparalleled physical and emotional stress from exploitive work conditions that denied them breaks, planning time and the professional autonomy to deliver instruction in ways that best met their students’ needs. In a 2021 online poll of 700 teachers and 300 administrators, 54% noted that they were “somewhat” or “very” likely to leave the teaching profession within the next two years, while only 34% gave the same response in 2019.
Nearly 50% of teachers are crippled by student loan debt before signing their first teaching contract. The average student loan balance for educators is $58,700, with 14% owing more than $100,000. Veteran educators are not exempt from drowning in debt, with 25% of educators over age 61 owing balances of up to $45,000. While educators are entitled to student loan forgiveness after 10 years of service under the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, the program is irretrievably broken. About 98% who apply for loan debt relief are denied. Meanwhile, loan-servicing companies are raking in profits.
Current students pursuing a teaching credential need support, and we must retain veteran teachers. The public needs to demand that legislators enact the following:
- Longevity bonuses for veteran teachers beginning in the sixth year of service and graduating to a maximum of $1,500 per year. For reference, many school superintendents receive longevity bonuses in their contracts.
- Signing bonuses for all new teachers who receive the lowest pay on district salary schedules.
- Automatic loan forgiveness with 20% of the debt forgiven each year and 100% forgiven by the end of the fifth year of service.
- Daily substitute pay rate for all soon-to-be teachers in the student-teaching phase.
Currently, the three- to four-month period for student teaching, required before new teachers are fully credentialed, is unpaid, making it unsustainable for too many potentially great teachers.
- All tuition, credential costs and initial licensure assessment costs paid by the state for new teachers.
To “grow” a future supply of teachers, we also need:
- Mentor programs for middle, high school and undergraduate students who want to become teachers, allowing them to learn pedagogy principles in an authentic setting while working with children.
- Stipends for veteran mentors who would be carefully selected to work with middle and high school students who want to pursue an education career.
Some may argue that these ideas are too costly for the state. But the continued loss of teachers could prevent schools from remaining open, which is far more costly. The negative effect on children’s academic progress during pandemic school shutdowns and the subsequent lack of substitute teachers to cover classrooms when teachers were out sick forewarn what will come if our state legislators fail to intervene. Time is of the essence, and it is past time for teachers to know that our state and federal leaders appreciate their work and understand how vital teachers are to the success of our children.
To find your local legislator, click here and use your address or current location. For tips on communicating with legislators, click here. For more information on the movement to end education debt, click here.
Cassandra R. Henderson is a former public school teacher and administrator in the Sacramento area and currently works as an education consultant for the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing.
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