Calif. Protests Highlight Teachers’ Frustrations

 SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Teaching was a calling for Jennifer Teguia. She says the long hours she spends grading papers, writing exams and calling parents are worth it to help young minds thrive.

But as she has seen her 9th and 10th grade English classes balloon from 20 students to 36 or 38, she and her colleagues at John F. Kennedy High School in the eastern San Francisco Bay area city of Fremont are getting burned out.

“This year has been by far the most difficult year in my career, including the first couple of years where you don’t even know what’s going on and you don’t know the system,” said Teguia, 34, a teacher for 11 years.

“I rarely get any time that I’m not working. I think the first day, including weekends, that I didn’t work was in November. … My parents have helped me score, my husband has helped me score papers. Everybody is trying to help out, and I’m still barely able to still have time to sleep,” she said. “The workload is unbelievable.”

Teguia was among the hundreds of teachers who converged on the state Capitol this week to press lawmakers for more education funding as schools face the prospect of billions of dollars in cuts to balance California’s budget.

Amid frustrations over past and potential budget cuts, another reality has been emerging for many of those in the profession: Teaching has never seemed less appealing.

Prospective candidates are proving it: Enrollment has plunged at teacher colleges in California at a time when the state says it needs more highly qualified educators in the classroom and a wave of baby boomer teachers is getting ready to retire.

Teachers face increasing expectations from the state to boost student performance and must deal with a growing population of non-English speaking students, yet classrooms are being hit hard by the state’s ongoing fiscal woes. The budget turmoil of recent years has led to larger class sizes, furloughs, program cuts and the annual threat of thousands of layoffs.

“I think that we can conclude from the drop in the numbers of individuals who are going into teaching that it is, in fact, less attractive. They see the stories in the newspaper about the high numbers of teachers, especially new ones, in the profession that are being laid off,” said Margaret Gaston, executive director of the Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning, a Santa Cruz-based nonprofit that studies the teacher workforce.

“The state of California lately has not done very much, if anything at all, to encourage these bright and capable young people into going into the teaching profession.”

The center praised state leaders in its annual report last December for engaging in a robust public debate about how to boost teacher performance and match the most qualified teachers with students. But it added that the state “essentially has little capacity to do what is required to build a teaching force able to meet the high professional standards set for them.”

“Instead, California’s fiscal crisis has so severely damaged the pipeline for recruiting and training new teachers, and for supporting existing teachers, that the quality of the teacher workforce is likely to be at risk for many years to come,” the report said.

The state Department of Education says 30,000 teachers and 10,000 teacher aides, clerks and other support staff have been laid off over the past three years. Education spending has declined 9 percent during that period, while school enrollment has fallen by just 1 percent.

The 300,000 teachers who remain are coping with more students in each classroom, more responsibilities, less preparation time, and often, lower pay because of furlough days.

The National Center for Education Statistics, which compiles education data for the federal government, ranks California 47th in the nation in the number of students per classroom teacher as of 2010.

On top of that, California has among the most rigorous academic standards in the nation but is scaling back on professional development programs that help teachers improve their skills.

Budget cuts also have forced many schools to cut support staff such as counselors and nurses, and eliminate or reduce art, music and physical education programs, which produce well-rounded students and help hold their interest throughout the day.

Enrollment is expected to grow in the next few years beyond the 6.2 million students who are in kindergarten through 12th grade public schools today. About 1.5 million students are classified by the state Department of Education as English-learners who require additional instruction to gain proficiency. Only about half of California students score as proficient or better on standardized English language arts and math exams.

The teachers gathering at the Capitol this week are petitioning lawmakers to extend recent increases to the personal income, sales and vehicle taxes for five years as a way to help the state close its remaining $15.4 billion budget gap. If those taxes are not renewed, Democrats warn of devastating cuts throughout state government, including education.

School spending accounts for more than 40 percent of the state’s general fund, but total spending has fallen from $71.1 billion in the 2007-2008 fiscal year to about $64.4 billion this year. The figures include federal spending, which will fall further next school year when the government’s stimulus program ends.

Beverly Gonzalez, 53, one of California’s five 2011 teachers of the year, said teachers are “the silent funders of education.” She has bought copy paper, pencils and even playground balls for her students to use at recess.

“We’re asked to do everything. We’re asked to solve every problem — obesity and English-language learning and reaching the state standards — and we do it. We work so hard,” said Gonzalez, an 18-year teacher who teaches fourth and fifth graders at Santa Fe School in Baldwin Park, near Los Angeles. “I tutor for free five hours a week so that my students have what they need. I don’t ask for any money for that. … It is my pleasure to be able to do that, but at some point it becomes a choice of paying bills or funding the schools.”

The average annual starting salary for a California teacher is $40,000, with the average maximum at $80,000 for the most experienced teachers.

Yet many teachers say they feel unappreciated and are scapegoated for poor academic performance that likely has its roots in many areas of society.

That has hit home every spring the past few years as school districts throughout the state have had to issue pink slips amid the state’s continued fiscal problems and chronically late budgets. While most teachers are eventually rehired, thousands have lost their jobs.

This year, an estimated 20,000 teachers and other school staff have been issued pink slips and could be laid off in September.

Pat Kaplan, a fourth grade teacher at Bridges Academy in Oakland, said the wait and uncertainty can be agonizing. The process, she said, is taking an emotional toll on many of her colleagues.

“They gave layoff notices to six of our teachers. It’s very traumatic for the whole school — the parents, the children,” she said. “And then they rescinded those layoffs, but it’s still very traumatic and difficult.”

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

  • Gordon Lynch

    I really get tired of people complaining about what they have ; they have a job that is over paid’ they have 3 months off with pay and most work for other people while off and with those teachers in youth detention are worst . I believe they
    and their Unions are a bunch over paid fools ripping off the tax payers and children in the school system.
    First the unions force the teachers to pay fees which are forced on the tax payers
    by raising wages to pay for dues , then the unions take the tax payers to court for more rights and when a state worker is busted for theft, rape, drunk driving
    or anything else like being here illegally the state and cities cant get rid of them.
    what a wast of tax payers money

    • dunphy

      those are all anecdotal examples, homeslice.
      I think the point of the article was to discuss the viability of gaining quality teachers. If you pay employees less, they’ll go elsewhere.
      You can’t lament the sorry state of education, then moan about they want more money.
      also, while teachers unions may not be helping from your perspective, do you seriously believe they are solely responsible for the current education crisis?
      just so you know, illegal aliens can’t be employed by state offices. if they somehow are, their contracts are terminated.

  • Bob

    It seems that the issue is not the amount of money being spent on education, but how it is spent. A teacher pays 8% into their retirement plan and receives, on average, $4250 per month. A worker normally pays into Social Security 6.2% and receives as average on $1750 per month.

    Retired teachers in California make more than working teachers in 28 states.

    Let’s make the amounts more even and that would free up funds that could be used in the schools themselves without raising the burden on the private sector that is losing jobs, homes, and savings.

    I can not see how this inequity can be justified by the teacher and have them still complain that they do not have enough money.

  • A Grateful Teacher

    Bob, if I remember correctly, the $4250 a month that you calculated is what retired teachers are earning. You want to make comments about retirement and whatnot, then fine. What does that have to do with me, the working teacher? I can promise you I don’t bring home $4250 a month, and maybe never will. Myself, and most working teachers, are not complaining about our salaries. We see the lack of educational funding having a negative effect on the classroom. Is that so wrong to stand up and shed light on? Maybe you are right – maybe pensions and retirements do play a role. Fine. Stop directing your comments at the working teacher, most of whom are trying to make a difference, and instead direct your energy on your lawmakers who are the ones who are going to do anything about needed reform.

    • Bob

      I thought my advice that cutting the retirement benefits to a level more in line with the majority of Americans would free up this money to be used in the classroom. Let’s say they cut the payout to $2000 per month instead of $4250 per month. That would provide $2250 per month multiplied by the number of retired teachers that could be used in the classroom now. Isn’t that what the teachers want. More funding to cut classroom size, provide for needed items in the classroom, and to stop the layoffs and threat of layoffs?

      And I have respect for the teachers and the jobs they do. My problem is with the union.

      Albert Shanker, president of the United Federation of Teachers(1964-1984) and president of the American Federation of Teachers(1974-1997) stated that “When school children start paying union dues, that’s when I’ll start representing the interests of school children.”

      That is the problem with the teachers unions.

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