| YOUNG VOICES
By Precious Rios
The teacher shortage the United States is facing confirms that the teaching field is in disarray. According to Forbes, more than half a million teachers in the U.S. have quit since the beginning of 2020, with a drop-out rate of 9.1%, compared with a typical 8%, with an increasing workload being cited as one of many reasons why teachers are leaving the profession.
Educators from the Salinas Union High School District also cite a decline in engagement in the classroom, which can be discouraging for educators. It became a major issue after the pandemic, particularly with freshmen and sophomores who are glued to their devices.
“They can’t really disconnect from it because they need that constant stimuli,” said Eduardo Garcia, a math teacher who used to work at Everett Alvarez High School, referring to the drastic increase in cellphone use during class time. “Especially the younger students have a lot of trouble focusing on something that is not fun.” Garcia points out that discipline seemingly became more lax at Everett Alvarez after the pandemic.
In 2020, California eliminated willful defiance suspensions for students in grades 4-12 through legislation that cited this practice was used more frequently against students of color. As stated by the Berkeley Journal of Criminal Law, students who experience exclusionary discipline are more likely to drop out of school and become part of the juvenile justice system. Black students, boys, and children with disabilities are disproportionately affected by this.
But some teachers are complaining that by eliminating “willful defiance” as a tool they could use to remove unruly students from the classroom, they now have to contend with chaotic environments.
“You don’t learn from someone you don’t respect,” Garcia said, adding that the lack of parental oversight of students is a definite factor when it comes to respect in school. If parents are not monitoring the time their children spend on their phones or are not instilling discipline, the behavior will carry into the classroom.
“I recognize a lot of these parents have … long working hours… and then that feeds back into the students getting away with (the behavior) at home, getting away with it at school…”
Ultimately, the teachers are the ones bearing the brunt. Teachers are overworked and burned out, on top of not feeling valued in their work environment. Pay is also an issue.
“A lot of it is moneywise,” said Garcia. “Have these people (teachers) be able to live off of this (job) to deal with what they’re doing.” If schools want to attract more people to get into the profession, their salaries need to be started off considerably higher than they are now, and add to paychecks a little more year by year, he said.
Lukas Bonick has been teaching for four years, the first two in Japan as an English teacher, then in Salinas as a Japanese teacher at North Salinas High School. “I think that (the quarantine) has made (students) more dependent on written and textual conversations as opposed to … speaking and listening to others since that is how they accessed information during quarantine.” Getting students to actually communicate in Japanese is challenging, Bonick said, but he still sees some progress in their written work.
Fights occurring more often in some schools is another factor, he said: “I have a feeling that the students who are causing violence and other disturbances might be having issues controlling their energy and emotions, and acting out allows them to release this energy … such students might be acting up not realizing that what they are doing is harmful.”
Bonick also said Salinas Union High School District is making special efforts for newer teachers:
“With their housing project dedicated to new teachers like myself, they are making it easier for beginning teachers to live and work in the area.”
Tina Espinoza, a Spanish and AVID teacher at North Salinas High School, said that it was a struggle to connect with students when everyone was wearing masks, which made the learning process even more difficult during the pandemic and may have contributed to the learning loss and increased learning challenges.
“That’s part of our job… to figure out what (students’) motivation is, whether it’s sports, college, or ‘I don’t want my parents to be mad at me,’” she said.
Students are also looking at planning their lives differently now, almost displaying nonchalance, Espinoza said. “You have to live every day like you’re gonna die tomorrow, but you have to plan like you’re gonna live forever,” is what she tells her students. “For the kids who were coming up from middle school … they just completely forgot how to act. Like they didn’t have the normal ‘development time.’ It breaks my heart to see what it did to some of those kids.”
“I definitely think pay is a concern,” she adds, “Your pay starts off really low, and goes up later (through the years) … My husband and I lived paycheck to paycheck for years.”
After 29 years of teaching, Espinoza says she believes it’s all been worth it, but recognizes that for young people who take on student debt, this job is just not an attractive option.
Through all of this, what has made it worth it for the teachers who stay? Garcia decided to move on from the profession in the pursuit of something better for himself, but still he acknowledges that “one of the best feelings is making that connection with the students and seeing them be successful.”
For Bonick, being able to pass on his passion for Japanese culture has motivated him greatly. “I think that being able to communicate with my former students after they leave my classroom and leave high school will be really motivating, too.”
And Tina Espinoza sums up the experience by saying, “It’s just the most fulfilling job ever. I get to meet people, I get to help people; I learn something new every day.”
California state officials are addressing the teacher shortage with bills such as AB 383, which provides paid leave of absence to teacher candidates from their district jobs and finish student teaching; helping bus drivers, cafeteria workers, and more, to earn their degree and teaching credentials. There are also programs to recruit teachers that are being funded, such as the $515 million donated to the Golden State Teacher Grant Program.
“Hopefully, these programs will encourage more people to join our ranks and come inspire our students,” Espinoza said.
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