Principal Patricia Chadwick filled her final open teaching position just days before the start of school at Cali Calmécac Language Academy, a Spanish-English bilingual school in Windsor Unified School District that teaches transitional kindergarten through eighth grade.
This is “not the norm,” she said. “This year has definitely been the most challenging in terms of staffing.”
Chadwick said Cali Calmécac typically has its staff locked in for the following school year by early- or mid-June. Even last year, with the pandemic still lingering, all teaching positions were filled by the end of June, she said.
But things are different this year, and it’s not just in Windsor.
A week after the first day of classes, Santa Rosa City Schools, the county’s largest district, had 19 vacant full-time teaching positions. The district added about 70 full-time equivalent jobs since last year.
Throughout the county, state, and country, schools are having trouble finding enough teachers to fill classrooms. The phrase “teacher shortage” has become ubiquitous. But the issue can’t be explained by simple supply and demand. Many educators argue there’s not a shortage of teachers, but a shortage of teachers willing and able to work under increasingly stressful and unpredictable conditions, often without corresponding increases in time, help and pay.
In recent years, the state has made it easier to become a teacher, by loosening requirements for certain credentials. But in the delicate transition out of the pandemic and amid a national and global time of tumult, kids are in dire need of capable and supported teachers. The state and county are trying to increase the supply, but then they face the challenge of getting new teachers to stay.
Vacancies are not a new problem in Sonoma County or in California. Statewide, retirements increased 26% in the second half of 2020, the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, compared to the same period in 2019, according to the California State Teachers’ Retirement System. The following year, 2021, saw almost as many teacher retirements as the year after the Great Recession, when many experienced teachers were bought out as districts sought to reduce costs.
Rachel Steiner quit her job as a music teacher at Old Adobe Elementary in Petaluma a few months into the pandemic. She has a weak immune system, and was worried for her health.
“When you teach music in an elementary school, you see the whole school,” she said. “Half the school would come to me on Thursday and the other half would come on Friday.”
Since leaving Old Adobe, Steiner has mostly taught private lessons. She misses teaching hundreds of kids, but doesn’t have any plans to return to the classroom.
“Teachers [have] always been stretched in terms of how we use our time,” Steiner said. It's always like every minute is accounted for. You end up using your own time to prep and do things and, you know, it seemed like more with COVID … And to me, that almost seems like, I mean, where would that time come from?”
Even before the pandemic, vacancies were increasing throughout the state, prompting changes to teacher credential requirements. In 2020, California’s Commission on Teacher Credentialing waived fees for certain tests and relaxed some requirements for subject matter competency exams.
Between the 2012-13 and 2019-20 school years, the number of teachers statewide who had not completed the requirements for full teaching credentials almost tripled, to more than 13,000 annually.
These changes aren’t just happening at the state level. While he couldn’t point to exact numbers, John Laughlin, associate superintendent of human resources at the Sonoma County Office of Education, said the county has issued a lot of temporary and provisional teaching credentials this year in response to teacher vacancies across the county.
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