After 10-Year Glut, Teachers Discover They're in Demand : Schools Resort to Sales Pitches to Cover Growing Shortage

Times Staff Writers

When Jane Loomis graduated from college with a teaching degree in 1978, the job outlook was depressing. There were too many teachers and not enough jobs.

"It was either wait tables for the rest of my life or leave the state," said Loomis, a reading specialist. So she moved to Idaho, where there was a demand for specialized instructors, and worked there for a few years.

Now she is back in her hometown, Long Beach, and will earn a master's degree as a reading specialist this fall from Cal State Long Beach.

She is looking for a teaching job again. But this time around she won't have to look far.

Teacher Job Fair

A total of 128 school districts, including 43 from Los Angeles County, sent recruiters to a statewide teacher job fair at the university this spring. Their eagerness to recruit was all the evidence Loomis needed of the new demand for teachers.

"It was thrilling," said Loomis, 32. "I was feeling kind of dejected about my prospects, but I don't feel that way anymore. (Seeing the demand) made you feel that after all the time and effort you went through to be a teacher, it's going to pay off."

After a decade-long glut, however, 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 grow more severe before it gets better.

According to a recent Rand Corp. 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.

Thousands of Vacancies

The short-term picture is not much brighter. The giant Los Angeles Unified School District needs 2,500 teachers by September. Hundreds of vacancies exist in other parts of the county, in particular in Long Beach, Whittier, the East San Gabriel Valley and Inglewood.

Even districts that are not in trouble yet say it's only a matter of time before the shortage hits them.

"It is definitely a buyer's market right now. Teachers looking for new jobs are in the driver's seat," said Warren Peace, a former assistant principal at La Serna High School in Whittier, who retired early to direct the Whittier Union High School District's teacher recruiting efforts. "We've got to go out and tell those new graduates why this is the world's best district."

"It's not easy, but we've got to use every trick--and money isn't always the key factor," said Peace, 60, who started in the district three decades ago as a science teacher. "Morale, employee relations and benefits all play into the equation. The days of waiting for new teachers to come to a district with their hat in hand begging for a job are over."

Brochures, Sales Pitches

In Whittier, there are 40 openings next fall at the district's five high schools and one continuation school. Down the road in Cerritos, the ABC Unified School District expects to hire 45 new teachers by September. And in Long Beach, where about 1,500 new, mostly minority students are expected to enter the district next year, about 60 teachers are needed.

"The pool of available teachers is just not as deep as it once was," said Robert Grossman, spokesman for the county superintendent of schools' office in Downey. "Districts are going back to all those things they used to do--brochures, cross-country scouting trips and sales pitches. Marketing is now a top priority in many 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, British Columbia, in April and interviewed more than 100 candidates there.

In other districts, special inducements are being offered to attract recruits. For instance, most districts give transferring teachers a maximum of five years of 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.

'A Big Plus'

"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."

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, new teachers in the Compton Unified School District, for instance, are among the lowest paid in the county. Two years ago, before the state subsidy, starting instructors in Compton received $14,100 a year.

"It's really difficult for me to recruit," said Compton 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."

Joseph Steele, personnel director for Inglewood Unified School District, said he emphasizes the positive in approaching prospective teacher candidates.

"Greetings from sunny Southern California," he said to one applicant at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, which drew recruiters from 53 school districts to a two-day recruitment fair in May.

'Close to the Beach'

Steele said he made a point of telling potential recruits that Inglewood is "close to the beach, close to the airport and close to the big city," which he said was a recruiting plus for the inner-city district. He also said that Inglewood's competitive $18,719 beginning salary and stable conditions at the middle-management level of school principals were strong selling points, too. Of the 250 teacher candidates graduating from Cal Poly this month, Steele only expects to hire three.

For the most part, math, science, English and bilingual teachers are in the most demand. According to national surveys, those teachers are scarce throughout the country, making competition among school districts keen.

"We're all after the same people," Acosta, of the Los Angeles city school district, said.

Ronald Matejcek personnel director for the Covina Valley Unified School District, said he is thinking about retraining teachers to fill needs for math and science instructors. His proposal would provide district funds to pay for the additional classes the teachers would have to take to earn the specialized credentials. The Covina district needs to hire 20 new teachers by the fall.

In Azusa, Assistant Supt. Robert Kahle has tried other strategies. Three years ago, for instance, he recruited a school maintenance man who had completed three years of college to be an auto shop teacher. The maintenance man later earned his teaching credential. "If I recruited out of state, it's risky how long (a new teacher) would stay in Azusa," Kahle said.

Reasons Complex

The reasons for the teacher shortage are complex. But a major factor is that, after a decade of declining enrollments, the elementary school rolls are beginning to swell again with the offspring of the baby-boom generation. "Many districts are seeing increased enrollments," said Tim McClure of the California School Boards Assn.

However, the number of teachers graduating from schools of education has declined precipitously over the last several years. According to a joint study of the Los Angeles County superintendent of schools and the California State University system, teacher training programs in California and the nation are producing 50% fewer teachers now than in 1971.

Educators say the decline was partly a response to the teacher surpluses that characterized the 1970s. However, studies show that the profession lost many potential teachers to more lucrative occupations. In particular, women stopped flocking to teaching in the numbers they once did because of widening opportunities in other fields.

"For years the only careers open to women were teaching and nursing. Now the sky is really the limit," said Denise Holt, consultant to the 174,000-member California Teachers Assn. "How can we compete with a $40,000-a-year advertising job?" she asked. "We can't."

Rising Teacher Enrollments

A check of education schools at seven major private and public colleges and universities in the greater Los Angeles area shows that about 1,200 new teachers are graduating this year--not nearly enough to satisfy local needs. Although most of those schools are reporting increased enrollment in teacher-training programs for the first time in three years, observers say it will be some time before supply equals demand.

Those who are graduating aren't spending much time on the job-hunting trail.

Charles Eastman is one who has profited from the teacher shortage. In December, he collected his English degree from Cal State Long Beach and a month later he was hired to teach English at California High School in Whittier.

"When I graduated, I figured I'd substitute to pay the bills while I worked on getting my teaching credential," said Eastman, 25, who grew up in Norwalk and recently married. "All of sudden I'm teaching--full time. It's great. We no longer have to beat the bushes for jobs."

Aware of Drawbacks

Eastman said he went into teaching knowing all the drawbacks--low pay, discipline problems among students and low teacher morale.

"But teaching has been in my blood for a long time," he explained. "I was a hardly a model student in high school, and because I had my difficulties, I felt I was equipped to teach kids. I believe most of those going into teaching today are more committed. There may be fewer of us. But we're more concerned."

Besides the smaller pool of new teachers, many districts are experiencing shortages because of a growing number of retirements. Many teachers who were hired after the end of World War II--during the last shortage--are now reaching retirement age.

In the Whittier Union High School District, for instance, retirements account for 20 of the 40 vacancies that have to be filled next fall. In the Covina Valley Unified School District, a third of the teaching staff is 55 or older. The teacher shortage "will really hit us in the next few years," said personnel director Matejcek.

Reforms Partly to Blame

Finally--ironically--the education reform movement of the last few years also is contributing to the shortfall. The state Legislature now requires all teacher candidates to pass a basic skills test. In 1983, the first year the test was administered, more than one-third failed. Last year, about one-quarter failed.

"I shouldn't call it a problem (but) we do have CBEST (California Basic Educational Skills Test)," said Inglewood's Steele. "Everyone I have talked to says it is important to keep those standards high, not dilute them. But it is cutting in" to the teacher supply, he said.

Teacher dropouts are another factor in the shortage, and many new teachers tend to leave the profession within the first four years on the job, said Whittier teachers' union President Bill Lawson.

School districts hope the mentor teacher program, one of several educational reforms proposed by state Supt. of Public Instruction Bill Honig two years ago, will help. Mentor teachers are outstanding instructors, chosen by a committee of peers and administrators, who receive a bonus of $4,000 a year to lend guidance to new teachers. However, critics of the program say that because mentor teachers are still required to hold down a full teaching schedule, they don't have enough time to devote to counseling.

Other educators say that school districts need to step up efforts on the other end by encouraging talented high school students to become teachers.

"That's my next step," said Rose B. Bard, assistant superintendent of the Alhambra City and High School Districts, which are growing at the rate of one classroom a month because of a burgeoning Asian population. "What I sense among students is a declining esteem for being a teacher. We've got to turn that around."

Teacher Vacancies

These figures represent the number of classroom teachers in school districts in southeast Los Angeles County this year and the number of projected full-time openings for those districts for September, 1985.

District Number of Projected '85 teachers openings* Elementary East Whittier City 260 15 Little Lake City 152 0 Los Nietos 60 1 Whittier City 194 20 South Whittier 178 5 High school Whittier Union 452 40 Unified districts ABC 910 45 Bellflower 354 3 Compton 1,286 35-40 Downey 550 15-20 El Rancho 442 5-6 Long Beach 2,600 60 L.A.** (Region B) 3,741 200 Montebello 1,100 22 Norwalk-La Mirada 620 15-20 Paramount 450 6-8 Countywide*** 50,000 NA Statewide**** 166,256 15,300

*Based on district estimates as of June 1.

**Includes only elementary and junior high schools in Vernon, Maywood, Bell, Cudahy, Huntington Park, South Gate and portions of South-Central Los Angeles.

***Includes all 82 school districts in Los Angeles County.

****Includes all 1,049 school districts in California.

NA=not available.

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