Joseph Steele, chief recruiter for the Inglewood Unified School District, smiled broadly at the prospective teacher and launched into his sales pitch.
"Greetings from sunny Southern California," he said.
Armed with the lure of balmy weather and other enticements, Steele had come to California State Polytechnic University in San Luis Obispo to find a few good teachers--70, to be precise.
That's how many vacancies Inglewood, a district of 15,000 students, needs to fill by September. It is not having an easy time doing so.
After a decade-long glut, growing enrollments, aging teaching staffs and a disdain for teaching as a profession are causing a shortage of teachers once again. A mad scramble for qualified instructors is occurring here and in other parts of the country, and educators predict that the problem will get worse before it gets better.
Projection for Next Decade
According to a recent Rand study, by 1988 there will be enough new teachers to satisfy only 80% of the country's demand. State education officials predict that California alone will need 110,000 new teachers over the next decade.
The short-term picture is not much brighter. The giant Los Angeles Unified School District needs 2,500 teachers by September, primarily to fill vacancies in its southeastern and south-central regions. Hundreds of vacancies exist in other parts of Los Angeles County, in particular the East San Gabriel Valley and such Southeast districts as Whittier and Long Beach.
Many areas have not been affected, such as the Westside and, except for Inglewood, most of the South Bay. In those areas, declining enrollments and other factors have ensured a stable supply of teachers. But even some districts that are not in trouble yet say it is only a matter of time before the shortage hits them; as several national surveys show, the supply of new teachers is not keeping pace with attrition or with the growth of the school-age population.
Rising enrollment and teacher attrition through retirements, reassignments and transfers have created the Inglewood school district's pressing needs. Last year Steele had to hire 120 teachers, including probationary teachers and long-term substitutes. With 70 vacancies to fill this year, he began recruiting in April, visiting six college campuses in four weeks. So far, his efforts have netted about 25 teachers.
"We're not nearly half way" toward meeting the district's goal, he said.
Bilingual Instructors Needed
Other districts are not having an easy time recruiting, either. The predominantly Latino Bassett School District in the San Gabriel Valley has been subscribing to a Sacramento-based computer matching service to find 15 to 20 bilingual and special-education teachers, said Fay Mason, assistant to the superintendent. Bilingual instructors are a critical need because 60% of Bassett's 10,000 students speak limited or no English, she said. To cope with the shortage, the district has been hiring teachers lacking full certification on an emergency basis while they complete their training.
The 11,000-student Azusa Unified School District is searching for 30 new teachers by September, particularly in the areas of bilingual education, special education, math, science and English. "Compared to Los Angeles, that is a drop in the bucket," said Assistant Supt. Robert Kahle. "But L.A.'s needs affect all of us. They have recruiters out all the time, and they have a large budget--which means they may get there first."
Districts Affected by Low Wages
Although the state Legislature has provided the funds to increase starting salaries in most districts to at least $18,000 a year, some districts are still handicapped by unattractively low wages. With a beginning salary of $15,760, teachers in the Compton Unified School District, for instance, are among the lowest-paid in the county.
"It's really difficult for me to recruit," said district personnel director Joseph Simmons, whose recruiters have traveled as far as Washington state to spread the word about Compton. "The only thing we can do is appeal to the (recruits) about the need. We tell them the inner-city schools need good people. You try to appeal to their humanitarian side."
To find teachers, recruiters are making the rounds of college campuses up and down the state, armed with brochures extolling the virtues of their districts. Some are searching in other states and even in other countries.
The Long Beach Unified School District, for instance, sent a team to Vancouver, Canada, in April and interviewed more than 100 candidates there. According to district spokesman Richard Van Der Laan, Long Beach will gain 1,500 new students in September, primarily because of a growing minority population, and needs to hire at least 50 teachers for next year.
Credit Given for Previous Experience