Ever since she was a little girl, Chelsey Ligocki has wanted to be a teacher. The 2009 Lodi High School graduate is not swayed by the budget cuts hitting education or the possibility she might be laid off when she finds that perfect job after graduation. Apparently she's in the minority. A number of recent reports paint a cautious picture of the future of teaching.
Baby Boomers are retiring, and college students appear hesitant to step into those roles due to decreasing salaries, increasing layoffs and a less-than-welcoming teaching atmosphere. And, with student enrollment expected to begin to rise again, some predict there could be a teacher shortage in the next few years.
"Shortage is a distinct possibility," said George Neely, Lodi Unified School District board president and a former teacher. "The declining enrollment in teacher certification programs and certificates issued over the last few years is a clear flag that districts may face a completely opposite problem from our current situation in the near future."
A study that the Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning in Santa Cruz released last month concludes there are fewer teachers to educate an increasing student population, and that fewer people are entering the profession. The study also finds that those who are staying face much tougher economic conditions than a decade ago.
Together, these elements are posing a danger to the future of education in California, the study concludes.
From 2008 to 2010, the number of teachers in California declined about 10,600 to the lowest total number in the career field in a decade, according to the Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning.
Firstand second-year teachers declined by 50 percent in the same period.
An aging workforce
In 2005-06, researchers from the U.S. Department of Education looked at the average California teacher's age and found a large number in their late 50s.
Figures for Lodi Unified are unavailable. But in Galt, the average age for elementary educators is 44. The typical retirement age is 63, according to the district's personnel department.
In a typical year, 40 teachers retire from the Lodi district.
Last spring, however, exactly 100 subscribed to an early retirement program that was believed to save the district money and provide jobs for previously laid-off teachers. Roughly six dozen were re-employed.
Former teacher Susan Heberle is among those who took advantage of the incentive and is not surprised by the statewide teacher shortage projections. However, she wonders how it will affect students.
When she went to college in the 1970s, there were few career paths other than teaching and nursing open to women. After graduation, she went to work at Tokay High School and remained there for 31 years. Her husband, Ron, was recently elected to the school board.
For years, Heberle said, the average age of the teachers in the Tokay science department, where she taught, was 50. With recent Baby Boomer-age retirements, it has shifted and most teachers are in their 30s, thus bucking the belief, at least locally, that no one will fill the void left by retirees.
"It's good when you have teachers who know the ropes along with the new ones coming in. When you get that nice mix of people, students benefit," she said, adding that the district has seen a lot of retirements over the last five years. "Those teachers provided stability. They lived in Lodi and had been at the same schools for years."
Local teacher demand high
In 2008 — even before teacher furlough days and shortening the school year became common — the U.S. Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences conducted a report on the trends of teacher demand.
Based on expected teacher retirements and student enrollment growth, analysis suggested that the Central Valley will face some of the highest demand for new teachers in the coming decade, mostly due to current teachers' ages and an influx of students.
Sacramento County schools could need even more teachers because of the region's size, the report said. It is one of 10 counties in California that account for more than 70 percent of the state's student enrollment, and will drive much of the state's enrollmentand retirement-related teacher demand over the coming decade, the report predicted.
This means that Sacramento will need to hire close to 7,000 teachers before 2015 to replace roughly 60 percent of the 2005 workforce.
Karen Schauer, superintendent of Galt Joint Union Elementary School District, believes that the less-veteran teachers there will be able to fill the retirement void there should trustees decide to eliminate class-size reduction in the youngest grades.
"When enrollment significantly increases in our district again, we will need new teachers," she said.
Whether it's the economy or the age of the current workforce, University of the Pacific professor Lynn Beck also believes there will be a teacher shortage in the coming years.
"We know excellent teachers are the key to students learning at high levels. We also know that work conditions, support, et cetera are actually more important to teachers than high salaries," she said.
In his role as a board trustee, Neely, too, is concerned with retention and creating what he termed "job satisfaction" in the district.
"I want our teachers to feel like a part of what is going on," he said, adding that a lot of the district's educators with the most seniority have not be listened to.
On average, Lodi Unified teachers have been teaching for 13 years, the same as the state average, according to the state Department of Education.
Neely, however, had already served in the military and had a successful sales career before he decided to earn his credential in January 2006.
Today, he admits he slipped into the field just before the economic issues hit. Job fairs were still commonplace and, he said last week, the internal concerns of whether he'd get a job after graduating were unwarranted.
The same year, he landed a job at Lakewood Elementary School in Lodi, where he grew up and was residing.
Locally, the San Joaquin County Office of Education processed half as many credential applications for the 2009-10 school year than the previous year. The figures reflect only the credentials processed by the county Office of Education. Other processing agencies include colleges, universities and local school districts.
Statewide, fewer preliminary credentials were issued in 2009, down 36 percent from 2002, according to figures from the Center for the Future of Teaching of Learning.
Building future teachers
In the past two years, there were an estimated 10,000 fewer teachers in California, according to the Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning report. Much of that is likely attributed to layoffs.
The number of new teachers, too, drastically declined. Researchers found that firstand second-year teachers in this state declined by 50 percent, likely coupled with the fact that fewer college students are studying to become teachers. (Roughly 13 percent of Lodi Unified's teachers are firstand secondyear educators, the U.S. Department of Education reported last year.)
"There're a lot of people locally who would be great teachers, who leave in the first and second years because of working conditions," Heberle said, ticking off a list of requirements imposed on educators by mandates under No Child Left Behind, such as rigorous benchmark testing that she feels adds extra burden to teachers.
But Beck thinks the economy is the culprit. "Layoffs in many districts put many experienced teachers out of the classrooms where they had worked," she said.
Schauer agrees that college students may not be going into teaching because of the job market opportunities.
"For example, health care is more promising in the job market upon college graduation than teaching at this time," she said.
Between 2002 and 2008, the number of enrollees in teacher preparation programs dropped from more than 75,000 to fewer than 45,000, the center's report found.
However, at University of the Pacific's Benerd School of Education, where Beck teaches prospective educators, the number of people seeking teacher credentials is actually increasing, but she said that might be because the program is so small. The age of its enrollees vary; many are looking for career changes, and some are of traditional college age.
"The people who are coming to us seem to be aware of the challenges of teaching but also its importance," she said, adding that many recent graduates have been hired. "We're trying to make sure that they have more than one credential and have knowledge and skills that makes them both attractive to districts and competitive in the job market."
Despite the economic climate, programs like Lodi High's Apple Academy are still going strong. It encourages students to consider careers with children, including teaching.
Now is the prime time for a teenager to consider a teaching career, said academy co-teacher Jeff Palmquist. "By the time they are able to enter it, the field should be wide open," he said.
The key will be finding people who will get excited about teaching and see its importance, Beck said, adding that Pacific's program is built around real-world, fieldwork experience.
Schauer believes school districts can plant future teacher seeds through efforts that expose youths to tutoring and mentoring. For example, Galt High School students visit elementary schools through a child development course that gives them school tutoring experiences with younger students.
Ligocki is completing her general education at San Joaquin Delta College, with plans to transfer to Pacific. She is among a group of local students who love children and want more than money — for them to have good teachers. She has been working at the Lodi Day Nursery School for the last six months.
"I hope that the cuts don't affect me getting a job in the future when I graduate college," Ligocki said. "I will just keep my fingers crossed that the economy will be better by the time I get out of school."
In the end, Greer Elementary School Principal Emily Peckham and Marengo Ranch Elementary School Principal Terry Metzger said large numbers of students continue to convey on their future dreamboards that they would like to become teachers when they grow up.
Palmquist agrees. "Some students have felt compelled to be a teacher from the time they started preschool," he said.
Contact reporter Jennifer Bonnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.