What California’s Teacher Shortage Says About Education

Just six short years ago, many teachers in California districts began hearing rumors of pink slips coming. The recession was raging, the economy seemed teetering on the brink of collapse and teachers were plentiful. Jobs, however, were not. Any jobs available were receiving hundreds of applications, overwhelming human resource departments and making the odds of actually getting an interview, let alone a job, close to zero.

It all started in the early 2000s when education was touted as one of the best industries to get in to as there was an upcoming wave of teachers who were set to retire in the next five years. Teacher credentialing programs were full and with the implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act all teachers needed to be considered “highly qualified” in order to be hired, so colleges were also filled with returning students.

When the rumor of pink slips became a reality, the door was shut on thousands of hopeful California teachers who either only were able to teach for a few years before being laid off or recent graduates found themselves holding virtually useless credentials in an already tougher-than-nails job market.

As the jobs dried up, so did the interest in going into teaching. College students became savvier—looking at the potential for future work as opposed to following their passion—and finding that money could be made elsewhere, because education had shut its doors tight.

It seems as though we’ve received an apex of sorts, a meeting of the place where supply and demand suddenly switch, because this year, especially in several Northern California districts, they are scrambling to fill last minute positions in subjects that were impenetrable before: Social Studies and Language Arts.

Several schools have begun the school year understaffed, relying on substitute teachers to begin the school year with students while suitable credentialed teachers are found. And for once, the teachers have the pick of the litter when it comes to jobs.

So what does this mean for the future of California education? For one, I’d say it still isn’t time to go into education. While there are positions open there are still plenty of educators ready and willing to get back into the game. Districts are interested in hiring fresh new teachers that may have a few years’ experience under their belt, but due to cut-backs didn’t get to hold on to their jobs.

If the teacher shortage continues, districts may need to offer better benefits packages, higher salaries, or other benefits in order to entice credentialed and highly qualified teachers in to their area—even if that means poaching them from other areas in California.

While Northern California struggles to replenish its teachers, Southern California is still overly saturated with too many educators and too few job opportunities. Perhaps NorCal is poised to see a great migration of professional educators coming north in order to take advantage not only of the job opportunities they just can’t find down south, but the wide open spaces, affordable housing, and slower pace of life (at least outside of the Bay Area).

One thing is certain: California’s shortage of teachers shows a real cynicism and mistrust of the education system—the same system that was even handing out pink slips to “tenured” teachers. How this shortage will affect students, schools, and test scores remains to be seen.