WASHINGTON — The current shortage of teachers in the nation's classrooms will worsen in the coming decade--and will hit California particularly hard--a panel of educators said Tuesday.
By 2011, the shortfall nationwide is expected to reach 2 million teachers, with nearly 300,000 positions in California's public schools going unfilled, said members of the panel, which included school administrators, representatives of teachers' groups and policymakers.
Increasingly, school districts are turning overseas to fill vacant slots. And the job of recruiting teachers is even more complex in urban school districts, where newer teachers often leave the system after sometimes frustrating experiences in the classroom.
"It's an unprecedented hiring challenge, and it's higher than we ever faced before because of the size of the enrollment growth and persistent teacher attrition," said David Haselkorn, president of Recruiting New Teachers, a nonprofit group.
"That whole generation of teachers who taught the baby boomers is retiring just as the children of that baby-boom [generation] is coming into the nation's classrooms," Haselkorn said.
California is one of the states that would suffer most from a shortage because of its growing population.
The state in recent years has increased the amount set aside for teacher bonuses, training and recruitment, and raised starting salaries for teachers.
"When you look at the depth of commitment California has put in place, it is really quite impressive. But when you look at the challenge California faces, you still have to ask, 'Will it be enough?' " Haselkorn said.
Many cities, including Chicago, have tapped into "global recruitment" to remedy the problem. Carlos Ponce, chief human resources officer for the Chicago Public Schools, said the district has offered special visas to foreigners to teach classes in certain subject areas.
"We were able to attract math and science teachers from all over the world from some of the best universities," Ponce told the panel. "We looked outside of Chicago to find the teachers that we needed."
Teachers' group representatives said higher salaries along with more respect for teaching would help attract college graduates.
"The support that new teachers get when they enter the profession is critical to whether or not they stay," said Segun Eubanks, senior professional associate of teaching and learning for the National Education Assn.
"A mentor is not somebody you have a cup of coffee with every other week to talk about your problems. A mentor is someone who is going to help you on a regular basis to improve your skills and give you some feedback and help you with your craft in the classroom," Eubanks said.
Educators said a major problem, particularly in urban schools, is the large number of new recruits who become discouraged and leave after only a couple years of service.
Kelly Amis, who addressed the panel, was one such recruit. Amis was a recent Georgetown University graduate when she got an emergency teaching credential in 1990 to teach fourth and fifth grades at an elementary school in South-Central Los Angeles.
During her two-year stint, Amis said she witnessed teachers who habitually came to school late, fell asleep in class or were abusive to students.
Like many new teachers, Amis said, she had been drawn to the profession by a desire to make a difference in the lives of her students. But discouraged, she decided to quit. She now works with the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation in Washington, an organization that supports education reform.
"There are lots of people who would teach if they had the right incentives," Amis said. "I found teaching to be so frustrating and so disillusioning and really sad for so many of the kids I was dealing with and the families who felt hopeless."