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Understanding the California Teacher Shortage and How To Solve It

December 10, 2023

California Teacher Shortage (1200 X 750 Px)

Teacher shortages are a nationwide issue. Unfortunately, California is one of the main states struggling to fill vacancies with qualified instructors. According to the California Department of Education, there were more than 10,000 vacancies in California public schools in the 2021–2022 school year. 

Special education classrooms have been hit the hardest in California. Administrators face a mix of high demand for professionals with special education teaching credentials and a lack of qualified candidates.

This is stressful for administrators, but ultimately, students are the victims of not having enough teachers. A less stable school environment, larger class sizes, and a lack of certified support hinder students’ success. Not only does that mean lower grades, but lower graduation rates.

The state and administrators have tried a variety of solutions, but the shortage persists. 

Why Is There a Shortage of Teachers in California?

Teacher shortages happen when there’s a lack of credentialed teachers to fill vacancies. The reasons for this vary, but the pandemic and its political and economic impact have only exacerbated these issues. A lack of resources made it a challenge for schools to adapt, and in the meantime, more teachers retired, and fewer new teachers joined schools. 

High Cost of Living

California is one of the states with the highest cost of living. This makes it difficult for already tight school budgets to pay teachers competitively. The average cost of living in the state is $53,083, but the average salary for new teachers runs from about $47,000 to $57,000. Even the most passionate educators can’t teach for a living if they can’t pay their bills. 

Rent is a huge issue for teachers. Many teachers, especially in cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco, spend far more than 30% of their wages on rent, making it unaffordable according to the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development’s standards.

Increasing Demands on Teachers

The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a significant burden on school teachers. Teachers had to quickly adapt to learning in online spaces, manage constantly changing rules around masks and social distancing, and keep track of sick students. 

Schools were in crisis. Teachers stepped up, but the exhausting working conditions and constant need to adapt took its toll on teacher morale and student success. 

Since 2020, the effects of the pandemic continue to linger. More teachers have retired or left the profession, and the remaining teachers have had to play catch-up with students who are behind in learning, emotional, and social skills.

Teacher Morale Affected by Lack of Appreciation and Support

Teaching has always been challenging, and teachers have long operated with few resources and not enough appreciation. However, recent culture wars around schools have left teachers exhausted and with low morale. 

During the pandemic’s peak, schools were the focus of fights around COVID precautions. On top of that, schools were and still are a major focus of a polarized political environment. 

Teachers have faced book bans, scrutiny surrounding curriculums, and attacks for teaching topics related to race or religion. The pressure from these controversies can be so intense that some teachers choose to leave the profession.

Difficulty Recruiting Teachers

A decline in the number of new teaching certifications makes teacher recruitment a challenge. Certain vacancies where specific expertise or training are needed have been difficult to fill for years — such as in STEM and special education. Elementary schools have also been more affected than middle and high schools.

Recruitment is extra challenging for districts in rural areas. Rural administrators have tried widening their net to recruiting teachers at out-of-state job fairs but have had little traction: It’s difficult to convince teachers to move from out of state to live in an isolated town with few amenities.

Aging Workforce

While schools experience high turnover, teacher training program enrollment has dropped significantly since the early 2010s. This means fewer younger people are entering the profession. Nearly one-third of the teacher workforce in California is eligible to retire by 2024, meaning that an even greater challenge may be on the horizon.

Expiration of State COVID Flexibilities

Though the effects of COVID linger, states are no longer offering the same flexibility and support they did when the virus was at its peak. In California, leaders authorized credential flexibilities such as waiving exam requirements and subject matter requirements. 

This allowed teachers to continue teaching while waiting to take exams and get officially credentialed. However, the expiration of these authorizations became an additional hurdle for teacher certification — and thus, filling vacancies.

What Is Being Done To Fight the Teacher Shortage in California?

California has spent $1.2 billion out of the state budget since 2016 to address teacher shortages in public education. Statewide programs and policies have been designed to ease roadblocks at the source and provide emergency support for filling vacancies. Ranging from grants for teaching students to affordable housing projects, California has gotten creative about getting instructors in schools.

Emergency Permits and Waivers

California issues emergency permits to allow administrators to fill teaching positions with staff who have not yet completed teaching certification requirements. They’ve issued an increasing number of these permits in the past few years, issuing over 4,000 for the 2021–2022 school year. 

While this speeds up getting those eager to teach in schools, this means students have inexperienced teachers without the proper certifications.

Alternative Routes to Certification

California offers some alternatives to traditional certification to get teachers in the classroom faster. Teachers may be able to complete their certifications while teaching through an intern program. They may also be able to transfer teaching licenses from other states or transfer experience from private schools that don’t require certification. 

These routes are great for funneling talent into the public school system. However, the lack of proper state certification means these teachers won’t have the same level of education on state curriculum and learning standards as those certified within California.

Statewide Teacher Recruitment Programs

California lawmakers passed a few statewide programs designed to recruit more teachers, attacking the shortage from multiple angles. 

Grant programs incentivize student teachers to stick with the profession, reducing the burden of unpaid training hours:

  • Golden State Teacher Grant 
  • Teacher Residency Grant 
  • California Classified School Employee Teacher Credentialing Program

The California legislature has proposed other potential programs to focus on other financial barriers to teaching. Bill 238, if passed, would use state funds to provide grants to schools that would allow them to pay student teachers at the same rate as substitute teachers. 

Two other bills would reduce barriers for teachers certified out of state, making it easier for teachers to transfer to California without major certification requirements.

Affordable Housing for Teachers

The Teacher Housing Act of 2016 permits public school districts to create affordable housing for teachers on school property. For example, school districts can build rental housing and restrict occupancy to school district employees. 

New provisions in a 2022 bill signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom make it even easier for districts to build this housing. Since California is a high-cost-of-living state, this move will make it easier for school districts to keep teachers from being driven out of their jobs by high rent.

How Districts Can Address the Teacher Shortage Right Now

While California is working to address the root causes of the teacher shortage, school districts can’t wait for these policies to work — they need teachers in the classroom for the coming semester. 

To immediately fill vacancies, administrators need to take advantage of modern technology and resources to innovate their approach to teaching and reduce shortages

Improving the Work Environment With Flexible Hours and Remote Work

Many instructors may want to teach but cannot afford to live in high-cost-of-living areas with teacher shortages. Conversely, they may not want to move to rural, isolated school districts — another widely underserved area. 

Remote work solves these geographic restrictions by opening up teaching positions to teachers outside the shortage’s immediate area. Remote teaching also offers more flexibility with hours, making positions more appealing to candidates who need flexible schedules. 

Elevate K-12 helps schools do exactly that. Elevate uses technology to livestream engaging, qualified teachers to your classrooms — no matter where your schools are. Our model allows teachers to teach from anywhere as long as they meet the certification requirements to teach in the state. It creates a flexible, functional approach that engages students and addresses hiring gaps. 

Decreasing Logistical and Administrative Responsibilities

Teachers do a lot more than teach. Lesson planning, grading papers, providing one-on-one support for students, corresponding with guardians, attending meetings and trainings, plus a host of other school-related “extracurriculars” like coaching or chaperoning events.

As you might imagine, this narrows teachers’ window for core teaching tasks, as there are only so many hours in a day. The pressure of these many (and varied) day-to-day teaching expectations can be overwhelming and time-consuming. 

However, alleviating some of these tasks could reduce teacher burnout and make the profession more appealing. It can also help retain more of your current teachers, as they may be less likely to leave the profession if they don’t feel overwhelmed, overworked, and underappreciated.

Elevate can work with schools to create a collaborative teaching model that takes some pressure off your teachers. We can provide the lesson plans, and one of our teachers can tackle grading assignments so your teacher can focus on that core, in-class teaching time that leads to the best learning outcomes for students.

Incorporating Technology With Live Teachers

Modern technology allows live instructors to teach virtually in regular classrooms. Live teachers broaden the candidate pool and help districts with hard-to-fill vacancies, like those needing STEM or special education certifications.

Elevate simplifies this process, offering remote teachers via live stream. This makes it easy to bring certified instructors to underserved areas and those burdened by teacher shortages. 

Increasing In-Classroom Support

Paraprofessionals offer vital in-classroom support. Assistance for certified teachers reduces the classroom management burden of large class sizes. It also allows for more individual attention to meet the needs of diverse learners. 

Elevate works with talented, fun, and engaging teachers who take on the live instruction, while one of your school’s in-class paraprofessionals can focus on providing the hands-on support students need.

Discover How Elevate Is Tackling the Teacher Shortage in California

By placing certified, virtual, live teachers from anywhere directly into classrooms experiencing shortages, districts can fill vacancies with talented instructors and offer classes they might not otherwise be able to provide. 

Elevate K-12 already operates in multiple California school districts, offering 140 courses ranging from math and English to world languages. Our teachers reduce the impact of teaching shortages, leading to more positive student outcomes and helping reduce teacher burnout — which helps with retention.

Designed to be flexible, Elevate’s format can align with each class’s needs and conform to national and state education standards. While nothing can replace a real teacher in a classroom, Elevate is the next best thing! 

Learn more about the courses we currently offer in California, and get in touch to discuss your district’s needs today!


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