Are California teachers barely hanging on?

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A large survey of Californian teachers just came out, but Salina Gray didn’t need to see the results. She saw them.

Gray, who teaches science to seventh and eighth graders in the Moreno Valley near Riverside, hears his colleagues anxiously counting down the days of their retirement. The Stanford Ph.D. has seen its peers sometimes stretch to emotional breaking points, stressed by their workloads and trying to adapt to a rapidly changing teaching environment.

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“Just today, someone said to me, ‘These kids aren’t the same anymore. They are not as capable. They spend way too much time on social media,” Gray said. “But really, everyone is just very stretched, and that leads to this kind of discomfort that some teachers have.”

This sentiment is reflected in responses from more than 4,600 California Teachers Association (CTA) members, all currently employed in transitional K-12 classrooms, who were surveyed this summer by Hart Research Associates. on behalf of the CTA and the UCLA Center. for the transformation of schools. (Disclosure: CTA is a financial contributor to Capital & Main.)


While some of the responses were poignant, others sounded red flags. Asked how they felt about their work, 68% of respondents said that “exhausting” fitted the description very well, followed by “stressful” (61%), “overwhelming” (51%) and “frustrating” ( 49%). Only 34% chose the word “rewarding”, while 29% chose “satisfying”.

It may seem abstract and represents a snapshot in time. But the full survey report presents those responses in a more practical light. Amid soaring housing costs in California, teachers say they are finding it increasingly difficult to afford to live near their workplace. The burnout rate is high. Political attacks on teachers were cited as a significant detriment to their overall view of the profession, and many of those interviewed said their districts were doing a poor job of disciplining disruptive students.

And behind the numbers lies a larger context: California faces a looming teacher shortage that could cripple the state’s ability to educate its people. According to the California School Boards Association tally, the state needs 100,000 new teachers to right the ship, and statewide data released in June suggests nearly one in five classes are being taught by someone who is not accredited for this subject.

Given the already predicted teacher shortage, some of the survey data points are frightening. Four in 10 teachers said they had considered quitting their job, while 20% said they would probably or definitely leave the profession in the next three years.

“Nothing is more important to a student’s future than having a caring, high-quality educator in every classroom,” said CTA President E. Toby Boyd. “Unfortunately, this [survey] the data confirms what we have heard from educators anecdotally. Not only are we experiencing an urgent shortage of teachers, but many of our educators are barely coping.

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Gray, who has been teaching for more than 25 years, said a paradigm shift in education has a lot to do with the kinds of responses seen in the new survey. Where in the past teachers felt freer to focus heavily on academics, “we spend a lot more time now on the social and emotional health of our students. It’s hard to overstate the impact of social media in all of this – it brings the world to our students in ways that aren’t always beneficial, and teachers deal with a lot of that fallout,” said she declared.

The pandemic, with its profound effects on teaching and learning, almost certainly played a role in the survey results. Hart’s research report noted that before COVID-19 arrived in the United States, 40% of teachers said conditions in the classroom did not change much, while 45% said that they got worse. In the new survey, 77% of respondents said things had changed for the worse.

There’s no doubt that California’s housing market weighs heavily, with 80% of respondents saying they’ve struggled to find affordable housing near their school communities. One reason is that their pay falls far short of the cost of living – what education economists call the “teacher pay penalty”. In 2019, the most recent data available, an Economic Policy Institute regression-adjusted analysis found that public educators nationally earned 19.2% less than their non-teaching peers, a gap that tripled. since 1996.

“When you adjust for inflation, there has been no change in teacher compensation over the last 20 years,” said David Cooper of the EPI. By comparison, Cooper said, workers with a similar education outside the public education field saw their inflation-adjusted wages increase by 22% over the same period.

Money matters, and 88% of respondents said better pay was either their top priority or a very high priority in terms of a strategy to improve teacher retention in California. “But I work in one of the highest-paying districts,” Gray said, “and I know co-workers who are always eager to quit. It would be very simple if money was the whole equation, but that’s more complicated than that.

Indeed, the survey reveals a hunger among teachers for district and state strategies that will improve staffing, reduce class sizes, discipline disruptive behavior more strongly, and provide more support for the social and emotional needs of students. students.

The highest levels of teacher satisfaction with their current job were found in being accepted for who they are and working in environments free from discrimination, although these results varied by race. Those who said they were considering leaving the profession, meanwhile, cited burnout and political and ideological attacks as the two main reasons, followed by staff shortages and low salaries.

Teachers’ feelings about work are clearly always sincere. Eighty percent of those with five years of teaching experience or less said their top two reasons for being in the profession were to make a difference in the world and to help students. These percentages drop significantly for those who have spent more than five years in the classroom, suggesting that the stress of the teaching profession – and living on a teacher’s salary – has a cumulative impact on many.

Gray, who has spent years developing strategies to help herself and other teachers remain flexible in the face of the dramatic challenges of the profession, said she still loves her job and plans to teach for as long as she can. “But I’m having a unique experience compared to almost everyone I know,” she said. “Teachers come to work already stressed. We need to put strategies in place to recognize and manage this, so that we can take care of our students – that’s what we’re here for.

Crossposted from Capital & Main

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