Over the past seven years, enrollment in higher education programs that prepare candidates for teaching plummeted sharply. Teacher layoffs and fewer openings kept many away from the profession.
With the economy now improving, school districts have ramped up hiring and California is poised for a turnabout in teacher credentialing.
“Perhaps a decade ago, we were issuing 26,000 teaching credentials. In the 2012-2013 year, it was just over 15,000,” said Mary Vixie Sandy, the executive director of the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, the state agency that certifies teachers.
Today, school districts are again putting out the help-wanted signs, says Cindy Grutzik, associate dean for undergraduate and post-baccalaureate programs at California State University, Long Beach, College of Education.
"It’s more than a trickle," Grutzik said. "I would say last year we started to hear that the teachers that had been laid off were being rehired. So that was their first group to go to. And then now that those positions are filled, retirements are starting to happen and jobs are opening up."
Cal State Long Beach student teachers like Katie Rogers, who ignored the poor job prospects and stuck with their commitment to become educators, will be among the first to benefit.
“My 4th grade teacher was amazing, and from 4th grade on, I imagined myself teaching the way she taught,” said Rogers.
For fellow student Kelly O’Connor, becoming a teacher is like joining the family business.
"My older sister is a teacher. She’s been teaching for like 20 years in Santa Ana school district. And she would just always have me in her class helping her out. So I was like, 'This is so much fun' — and you get summers off if you want," O'Connor said.
Cal State Long Beach Education Professor Felipe Golez says in the years when school districts were hiring heavily, he’d get people who weren’t as passionate. Some weighed teaching and, maybe, law enforcement. He didn’t think that was right.
"I think it’s good thing for children to have teachers who really want to be teachers, and that apply themselves to learn how to work with children and want to do a little extra all the time," he said. "If you think of great teachers you’ve had they’ve always gone the extra step and that’s who you’re getting in credentialing programs."
Beyond credentialing, good teachers need support to keep them in the classroom, said state Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, a former high school teacher. Some talented teachers leave the field because they become frustrated, she said.
"They feel under attack, they feel like they’re left carrying the bag, and they don’t feel the administration is supporting them adequately," she said
Sacramento policymakers say they want to improve the credentialing process before demand spikes. Gov. Jerry Brown has set aside $10 million in his current budget to improve credentialing programs so that teachers gain the skills they’ll need in classrooms — classrooms with much different expectations than a decade ago.