Teaching in a Hard-to-Staff District

A hard-to-staff district is what they used to call the district that I work in. This, of course, was before the abundance of teachers that can now be found in California and in states across the nation. But even in this time of abundance, we still have a difficult time getting teachers who want to teach in our district. Much of this has to do with our financial reputation, both as a city and a district, as well as being a district that, for some, is a tough place to teach.

About six years ago, a few of my former students came to visit me. They talked to me about being ninth graders, and how for a month they had to sit in the gym for one of their core classes, which was not P.E. There were several classes that still did not have a teacher four to six weeks into the first quarter, so they were cycling through subs. During periods in which there were no subs, kids had to come to the gym -- where they learned absolutely nothing.

When I read articles about merit pay and tying test scores to evaluation, the question that is raised for me is if we had a difficult time finding teachers when we had money and there were no strings attached, what makes anyone think that people will be rushing to teach in my district?

The answer is they won't.

Not when surrounding districts offer more support, more money and better working conditions. I also frankly don't trust anyone who claims that they will make it financially worth it to anyone willing to teach in my district, as long as they agree to merit pay and/or tying test scores to evaluations.

Once upon a time, many teachers in this district and in other similar districts gave up pay raises in order to secure better benefits, reduced class sizes, prep time, and non-student days that allow teachers to prepare their classes before school starts and tear it down at the end of the school year. Our benefits have been reduced to such an extent that teachers and other staff are now paying anywhere between 30 to 50 percent of costs. Class sizes have gone from 20 to 28 students and will most likely rise to 32 in our K-3 classes. Pay-cut (aka furlough) days are now on the table and again are likely to be implemented if the tax extensions do not make it on the ballot, including our non-student days. While prep hasn't been done away with at the secondary level, it is virtually non-existent in our K-5 classes.

So all of this to say, why should I expect that the current carrot that is being dangled in the faces of educators will be there when the next economic crisis hits?

The bottom line is that there are exceptional teachers in my district. In a good economy, these teachers would have no problem finding a teaching position in a "better" district. Guess what? Many choose to teach in this district because we believe that ALL kids deserve a quality education with a quality teacher in front of them. Those who couldn't hack the myriad of challenges would leave on their own to teach in a district without these challenges. Some chose to leave teaching altogether, while others that maybe should not have been granted "permanent status" were given it anyway.

Of course, I understand the reasons why an administrator would give someone "permanent status," even if this should not be granted. For these administrators, the specter of having to go through the hiring process and still not finding anyone is scary. They would rather go with the dead weight they know than an unknown. They would rather not have to face the possibility of having a classroom cycle through subs for one or two months or more.

For the first time in many years, my district has a chance of competing with other surrounding districts because of the sheer number of applicants looking for jobs. However, what happens when the economy gets better? I know exactly what will happen -- we will be back where we started.