School is out for the summer, but for some in education, the work is just beginning on a problem that is growing more acute: the teacher shortage.
School districts have long anticipated they would be scrambling to fill teacher jobs once boomer-age teachers began retiring. But combine that with declining enrollment in teacher credentialing programs and now increased state funding for new hires, and you've got "the perfect storm," said Donna Glassman-Sommer, a Tulare County Office of Education administrator who handles teacher recruitment.
“We have heard that there is a teacher shortage coming and it started to hit last year, and it’s kind of snowballed right now," she said. "What they have predicted has arrived."
A recent state report found that candidates in teacher preparation programs declined for the 12th consecutive year. The number of new teachers is down 26 percent over the past five years.
Interest in teaching fell following recession-era budget cuts that also drove many experienced teachers from the field. Some university students who had sought degrees in education changed majors to pursue more secure careers.
“What is worrisome is that, you know, we’ve worked really hard to place fully credentialed teachers in the classroom and now that is becoming more and more difficult because they just aren’t out there,” Glassman-Sommer said.
When fully credentialed teachers can't be recruited, some schools turn to teacher interns and substitute instructors. Interns in an accredited program usually have a bachelor's degree, some teacher training and no experience in the classroom. Substitute teachers need to have at least 90 college semester units and be enrolled in a four-year California college or university, among other requirements set by the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing.
The number of job openings for teachers vary by region.
At Los Angeles Unified, job openings for fall stood at more than 150 as of last week. They include positions for music, special education, biology and math teachers.
For art instruction alone, the district is hiring 30 new teachers next school year.
Patricia Pernin, who coordinates teacher interns for LAUSD and serves as president of California Teacher Corps that works to boost teacher numbers, said it's still not known if the district will fill its open positions by fall. But she's mostly concerned about the 2016-2017 school year.
“I think it's especially going to be urgent coming July in 2016 as we see all of the baby boomers, we would like to say, retiring and deciding to move on to another part of their life,” she said.
The largest producer of teachers in California is the Cal State university system, which produces 50 percent of the state’s newly credentialed instructors.
The good news for school districts is the tide in teacher candidates may be starting to turn, according Aimee Nelson, interim director of Cal State Fullerton's Center for Careers in Teaching.
“We’re starting to see more of an interest in our incoming freshmen, even in terms of who's interested in teaching, we're seeing more students coming in for advising," she said. "It’s definitely ramping up."
During a campus visit to Cal State Fullerton earlier this month, 16 teacher hopefuls — all women —filled a conference room to learn about the university's teacher program.
The session focused on how the students could earn credentials in special education, among the areas with the greatest demand. Science and math teachers are also highly sought after.
Music teachers have also become harder to find, with hundreds of positions open across the state.
Michael Stone, president of the California Music Educators Association, said when the shortage gets this severe, he worries that even less-experienced music teachers will be harder to retain.
“If we put people in classrooms and they're not ready to be there, we know they will not stay in the classroom for the long term. There's a chance that they will feel frustrated and leave the profession. We don't want to see that happen,” he said.
The upside of the current situation is that music instruction is returning in many districts, Stone said.
College students are taking notice that the job prospects in education are brightening.
“There’s a lot of spots open is what I’ve heard of, especially in special ed,” said 26-year-old Daniella Valdez from Garden Grove.
Like many aspiring teachers, Valdez wants to get into the field to make a difference for children.
“My main reason is because I want to to see a higher graduation rate," she said. "That’s like one of my biggest motivators of wanting to become a teacher,” she said.
While young candidates like Valdez lack experience in the classroom, they bring along advantages when they become teachers, educators say. Millennials are often tech-savvy and may be better trained to teach the new learning standards called Common Core, emphasizing skills like critical thinking and problem-solving.
The question of the summer is — are there enough of them?