School Districts Across the Country Are Facing a Teacher Shortage

© Jim Wilson/The New York Times Ashlee Pepin with her daughter Penelope in her classroom at an elementary school in Petaluma, Cailf., last month. Ms. Pepin opted not to teach as an intern while she was still earning her credentials, though many…
© Jim Wilson/The New York Times Ashlee Pepin with her daughter Penelope in her classroom at an elementary school in Petaluma, Cailf., last month. Ms. Pepin opted not to teach as an intern while she was still earning her credentials, though many…

In a stark about-face from just a few years ago, school districts have gone from handing out pink slips to scrambling to hire teachers. 

Across the country, districts are struggling with shortages of teachers, particularly in math, science and special education — a result of the layoffs of the recession years combined with an improving economy in which fewer people are training to be teachers.

At the same time, a growing number of English-language learners are entering public schools, yet it is increasingly difficult to find bilingual teachers. So schools are looking for applicants everywhere they can — whether out of state or out of country — and wooing candidates earlier and quicker.

Some are even asking prospective teachers to train on the job, hiring novices still studying for their teaching credentials, with little, if any, classroom experience.

Louisville, Ky.; Nashville; Oklahoma City; and Providence, R.I., are among the large urban school districts having trouble finding teachers, according to the Council of the Great City Schools, which represents large urban districts. Just one month before the opening of classes, Charlotte, N.C., was desperately trying to fill 200 vacancies.

Nationwide, many teachers were laid off during the recession, but the situation was particularly acute in California, which lost 82,000 jobs in schools between 2008 and 2012, according to Labor Department figures. This academic year, districts have to fill 21,500 slots, according to estimates from the California Department of Education, while the state is issuing fewer than 15,000 new teaching credentials a year.

“We are no longer in a layoff situation,” said Monica Vasquez, chief human resources officer for the San Francisco Unified School District, which offered early contracts to 140 teachers last spring in a bid to secure candidates before other districts snapped them up. “But there is an impending teacher shortage,” Ms. Vasquez added, before correcting herself: “It’s not impending. It’s here.”

With state budgets rallying after the recession, spending on public schools is slowly recovering, helping to fuel some of the hiring. In California, Gov. Jerry Brown persuaded voters in 2012 to pass a sales and income tax measure that raised funding for public schools.

But educators say that during the recession and its aftermath prospective teachers became wary of accumulating debt or training for jobs that might not exist. As the economy has recovered, college graduates have more employment options with better pay and a more glamorous image, like in a rebounding technology sector.

In California, the number of people entering teacher preparation programs dropped by more than 55 percent between 2008 and 2012, according to the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing. Nationally, the drop was 30 percent between 2010 and 2014, according to federal data. Alternative programs like Teach for America, which will place about 4,000 teachers in schools across the country this fall, have also experienced recruitment problems.

And that has led districts here — and elsewhere — to people like Jenny Cavins.

Ms. Cavins, 31, who once worked as a paralegal and a nanny, began a credentialing program at Sonoma State University here in Rohnert Park less than a year ago. She still has a semester to finish before she graduates. But later this month she will begin teaching third grade — in both English and Spanish — at Flowery Elementary School in Sonoma. Ms. Cavins said she would lean on mentors at her new school as well as her professors. “You are not on that island all alone,” she said.

Esmeralda Sanchez Moseley, the principal at Flowery, said she could not find a fully credentialed — let alone experienced — teacher to fill the opening. “The applicant pool was next to nothing,” she said. “It’s crazy. Six years ago, this would not have happened, but now that is the landscape we are in.”

Before taking over a classroom solo in California, a candidate typically must complete a post-baccalaureate credentialing program, including stints as a supervised student teacher. But in 2013-14, the last year for which figures are available, nearly a quarter of all new teaching credentials issued in California were for internships that allow candidates to work full time as teachers while simultaneously enrolling in training courses at night or on weekends.

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Source: The New York Times | MOTOKO RICH

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