by Katharine Daniels
Executive Editor, The WIP
- USA -
As many as a third of California’s teachers may retire over the next decade leaving California with a shortage of approximately 100,000 teachers. While budget cuts limiting opportunities for new teachers are compelling enough reasons to choose different professions, it is well understood by most prospective teachers that teaching, while honorable and at times rewarding, is a stressful, unappreciated, and undervalued career choice.
Most often teachers teach because they are good at it. They clearly do not teach for the money, or because of some masochistic desire to be in charge of other peoples children six to seven hours a day. They also do not teach for the summer break – a break which, if they do get it, is usually a necessary period of time to refresh and recommit in order to return the next fall. The bottom line is teaching is exhausting and draining, made all the more difficult with never-ending budget cuts and increased demands. Teachers weigh the negatives with the positives, returning year after year to an honorable calling that has been made thankless by our government.
Compared to other fields that require similar college training and experience, teachers make less money. According to the National Education Association, the average national starting salary is $30,377. The NEA compares this average starting pay with other jobs that require similar amounts of education and training – computer programmers who start at an average of $43,635, public accounting professionals who on average start at $44,668, and registered nurses whose average starting salary is $45,570. On top of this discrepancy, the more years a teacher puts into the profession, the wider the salary gap becomes. In the same report, the NEA finds nearly “50 percent of new teachers leave the profession during the first five years of teaching, and 37 percent of teachers who do not plan to continue teaching until retirement blame low pay for their decision to leave the profession.”
An average starting salary of $30,377 makes it nearly impossible for many new teachers to pay off education loans and live in the communities where they teach, causing some teachers to take on an additional job on top of teaching a full class load. The stress and exhaustion of a second job on top of a full-time teaching position is reason enough to leave the field for a more lucrative position or never enter the field in the first place.
Dwindling and threatened classroom resources further intensify the burden placed on California teachers. In his March 8th column, LA Times’ Steve Lopez points out that even in well-performing, more affluent public schools, unless parents can pony up the money for their kid’s public school education this year, support staff will be the first to be cut. Academic coaches, teachers aids, and library, computer, and technology resources are on the block.
Unlike cuts to school district budgets in the past, slenderizing tactics such as administrative staff and maintenance cuts have already been made in recent years. According to Jack O’Connell, California’s state superintendent of public instruction, "this budget will result in real cuts to real students in the classroom. These reductions will be felt and seen."
In order to trim $2.5 million dollars from its budget The Atwater Elementary School District is cutting counselors and reading coaches. As superintendent Melinda Hennes, who last year focused on making cuts that would not be felt in the classroom states, "This year, it's a whole different way of looking at things -- what do we have to have, what do we have to keep in order to keep our doors open for kids."
In today’s schools, teachers often have to dig into their own pockets for basic learning materials and supplies school budgets cannot afford. In a WIP article, author Janelle Weiner cites teachers who spend upwards of $400 of their own money for basic classroom supplies such as pens and paper!
According to protectourstudents.org – an education coalition of more than 1.7 million parents, teachers, school board members, school employees and administrators – California has some of the most overcrowded classrooms in the nation. New budget cuts to our already underfunded school system will turn classes of twenty into classrooms with upwards of thirty students each.
While teachers depend on small class sizes to provide the individual attention students need, some school districts are choosing to not participate in California’s class-size reduction program. Though the program provides funds for class size limits (K-3), some school districts like Hayward have voted not to participate. Instead they are increasing class sizes to 30-34 pupils per class allowing the district to eliminate 120 teachers and save $2.7 million annually.
It’s baffling and short-sighted that California expects to both retain and encourage new teachers under these circumstances. By neglecting such instrumental workers today we are jeopardizing not only California’s teaching profession but the very workforce of tomorrow. By failing to support and cultivate the people in charge of our future generation, the most vulnerable continue to suffer.
Each year teachers are expected to do more and more with less and less. Eventually all Californians will pay the price.
Katharine's article is part of a month-long series on education in California, published in partnership with SixApart and the University of Phoenix. WIP Contributor Kimberly N. Chase is also participating. Be sure to look for both of their articles,
as features and Talk blogs each Monday in March. - Ed.