When Susan Knight decided to become a teacher, some people thought she was crazy.
Her friends were "intellectual snobs about teaching" who said she would spend all her classroom time "disciplining people." Professors were no more encouraging, warning that she wouldn't make any money.
But Knight, a student teacher at Pasadena High School, ignored the disparaging comments, and it's good news for public schools that she did.
When she earns her master's degree this June, Knight will enter a pool of new teachers who will have little trouble finding jobs. After a decade-long glut, teachers are once again in short supply, and educators say the problem will grow worse before it gets better.
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 say that California will be hard-pressed to find the 110,000 new teachers they predict will be needed over the next decade and foresee shortages in several fields, particularly in math, science and bilingual education.
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, Inglewood and such Southeast districts as Whittier and Long Beach.
Even districts that are not
in trouble yet say it's only a matter of time before the shortage hits them. "It won't catch us by surprise," said Deputy Supt. Richard Bartholome of the Bonita Unified School District, where 100 of the 400 teachers are at or near retirement age.
Consequently, many districts are intensively recruiting teachers for the first time in years--and they are not having an easy time doing so.
The predominantly Latino Bassett School District 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, she said, because 60% of Bassett's 10,000 students speak limited or no English. 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."
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 pay. 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 newly written 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.
Some districts are offering special inducements to attract recruits. For instance, most districts give transferring teachers a maximum of five years credit for previous experience, forcing teachers with more experience to take a salary cut if they want to be hired. Now the Los Angeles Unified School District is offering full credit for previous experience, recruitment director Michael Acosta said. The Whittier Union High School District is doing the same.
"It is a big plus," said Bill Lawson, president of the Whittier School Employees Assn. "It gives a teacher a chance to come to this district without being penalized."
For the most part, math, science, English and bilingual teachers are in the greatest demand. According to national surveys, those specialized teachers are scarce throughout the country, making competition among school districts keen.
"We're all after the same people," Acosta said.