California

Better pay, more time to plan and one other thing teachers want from you

Teaching

Amid a shortage of teachers in California, a new report calls for attracting more people to the profession by making teaching more prestigious. 

(Anthony Russo / For The Times)

When Arielle Bourguignon started teaching at 24th Street Elementary in Jefferson Park about two years ago, she felt UCLA’s education school had prepared her well.

But if it were up to her, she would change the perception of her profession. “Some people see us as glorified babysitters,” she said.

Jane Fung, a veteran, award-winning kindergarten teacher at Belvedere Elementary in East L.A., would change something else. “I would make sure that elementary and middle school teachers have a period off where they could either prep or collaborate,” she said. “It should be embedded into our profession.”

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Changing the teaching profession by making it more prestigious and giving teachers more planning time are just two proposals that are part of a new report from the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank in Washington. The report, which was provided to The Times and is being released Tuesday, calls for a comprehensive overhaul of the pipeline for becoming a teacher and staying in the classroom.

The report, written by former Obama administration official and current CAP Executive Vice President Carmel Martin, CAP’s teacher policy director Lisette Partelow and CAP’s vice president of education policy Catherine Brown, points out different ways to make teaching a more desirable profession. It calls for making teacher preparation programs more selective, requiring licensing exams to be more relevant, increasing teacher salaries, paying better teachers more, making tenure more meaningful, and reorganizing the school day so that teachers have more time to plan.

The individual proposals have been suggested previously by various groups, but the report ties these ideas together. “We think there is this almost perfect storm that is about to hit the education sector in that there’s this broad consensus that we dramatically raise the bar,” Martin said in an interview. “We need to make some radical changes in how the profession is organized.”

The report comes amid a teacher shortage in California, though not in L.A. Last year, the California Department of Education estimated that the state would be short 21,482 teachers this year. 

“In California, you are facing challenges in terms of shortages, and trying to recruit more people into the profession,” Martin said. “Some people might see a profession that raises the bar as pushing people away, but we see this in the opposite way, we see it as a way to attract more teachers.”

Fung was hired by L.A. Unified during a teacher shortage in the 1980s, and as a result, taught elementary even though she wasn’t certified to teach that level.

“Everything was hard,” she said. “I didn’t know the curriculum, I didn’t know the grade level, I didn’t have a chance to mentally prepare.” Within her first few months, she switched to a different grade level in a new school because her school had to reorganize based on the number of students who enrolled.

She spent her weekends and evenings taking as many education classes as she could, and then she taught from those lessons the next day. “It was a survival mode thing,” she said. After three years of teaching, she took a year off to become a student teacher. Now, she’s in her 29th year. 

The report, “Smart, Skilled, and Striving,” proposes preventing teachers from feeling as unprepared as Fung did by setting a minimum or a median grade point average requirement for teaching preparation programs at 3.0, requiring prospective teachers to take a standardized test similar to the LSAT before enrolling, and making instruction in education schools more concrete by teaching more specific teaching methods and less educational theory.

In California, the average salary for a new teacher in the 2012-2013 school year ranged from about $30,000 to 43,000, depending on the grade level. The report calls on districts to raise teacher pay, but does not specify by how much. It also suggests paying teachers in relation to their quality based, at least in part, on their evaluations.

Both major national teachers unions signaled support for these proposals, saying they had already offered similar solutions. But they disagree with some of the details.

“The elements of the report were consistent with what we and our members have been calling for quite a few years,” said Becky Pringle, vice president of the National Education Assn. But she added that the NEA would disagree with any proposal that bases compensation on teacher evaluations that rely on student test scores.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, had a similar response.

“This report suggests many of the things the AFT has been calling for years as it pertains to recruiting, supporting and retaining the teachers our kids need,” she said in a statement. “At the same time, any report on teacher policy should reinforce that the correlation between the effort of a teacher and the success of a student is not the only thing that matters ... Being ‘smart, skilled and striving’ is important — but it’s not the whole story.”

You can reach Joy Resmovits on Twitter @Joy_Resmovits and by email at Joy.Resmovits@LATimes.com

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