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On the hunt for educators
Teacher pic 1
Walnut Elementary School first grade teacher Kelli Ashby teaches a student in August 2017. TUSD is already searching for prospects to teach within the district next year, as the state is in the midst of a teacher shortage. - photo by ANGELINA MARTIN/The Journal

California is struggling to find teachers, and the statewide shortage has local school districts pining for prospective instructors as the occupation’s oldest begin to retire, while younger students are looking past the career altogether.


The Stanislaus County Office of Education and the Turlock Unified School District are both doubling their efforts to attract teachers to the area, with SCOE hoping to hire an additional 500 teachers for the 2018-2019 school year and TUSD unveiling a “plan of action” for new teacher hiring at Tuesday night’s Board of Trustees meeting.


SCOE Assistant Superintendent of Instructional Support Services Lisa Tiwater said that around the state, about one third of the teacher workforce is either retiring or nearing retirement this year. But, there are not nearly enough participants in teacher preparation programs in California to take those jobs — a problem that has been brewing for years, she said.


In 2013, the estimated need for teachers first began to outweigh the number of credentials held by graduating students. As of the 2016-2017 school year, there was an estimated need of nearly 25,000 teachers, with only about 11,000 prospective teachers throughout the state holding credentials.


“When the recession hit, new students stopped going into those programs because there weren’t any new jobs,” said Tiwater. “Now that we need them and there are jobs for them, there aren’t enough.”


The end result has been an influx of teachers who may be underqualified for their position teaching classes, like those with intern credentials or credits. The hardest teaching positions to fill in Stanislaus County include special education, math and science, said Tiwater.


To combat the lack of teachers in the county, SCOE often reaches out to local colleges — Stanislaus State and SCOE have worked together for years to keep Warrior alumni teaching in the area — and the organization plans and attends recruiting fairs. SCOE’s next Teacher Job Fair will take place on March 24 and is “open to all” — credentialed teachers, interns and those who are nearing the completion of their credential.


“We actually go out to colleges now and talk to students about why they should become teachers,” said Tiwater.


There are currently 109,510 students enrolled in public schools throughout Stanislaus County’s 26 school districts, with 4,877 teachers to instruct them — a ratio of about 22:1. The state as a whole is ranked 45th in its pupil-to-teacher ratio, and within TUSD, there is a 24:1 ratio for grades TK-3, and a 32:1 ratio in grades 4-12.


TUSD’s enrollment has slightly increased since 2014 but remained stagnant for the most part, growing from about 13,600 to 14,000 this year. Since 2015, the district has seen a decline in new hires, with 71 hired in 2015, 70 hired in 2016 and 63 hired last year.


According to TUSD Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Julie Eastburn, the district will most likely hire less than 63 teachers for the 2018-2019 school year. There are nine anticipated job openings for next year, she said, and a number slightly larger than that is expected to retire.


Eastburn laid out a hiring plan for the Board Tuesday night, which included making sure the district provides the essentials that new teachers look for when selecting their place of work, including support, like instructional mentoring, good working conditions, like manageable class sizes, and compensation, such as competitive salaries and quality benefits.


With millennial teachers, however, Eastburn pointed out that many younger instructors don’t necessarily value monetary benefits, but support from administration above all.


“The younger teachers don’t necessarily want the higher salaries and the benefits — their wants are the support and the professional development,” said Eastburn. “They want good working conditions, so that continues to be something we really strive for and provide for our teachers here in Turlock.”


Keys to attracting new teachers for the next school year will continue to include fostering a strong relationship with local colleges, and hiring the new working class earlier than other locations by posting anticipated vacancies as early as Jan. 31. Interviewing potential candidates at local job fairs is another huge factor in grabbing recruits early; last week, the district interviewed candidates at a Stanislaus State job fair.


“We want to get out there early and interview candidates,” said Eastburn.


One contributor to the teacher shortage was the recession, as Tiwater mentioned, but she added that over 10 years later, students are still shying away from teaching because of the multiple expensive tests one must take to become an educator.


“There’s a lot of accountability for new teachers; there are more tests to take that cost more money now,” she said. “A lot of people are turned off by that, but if they’re not, once they get into the profession they enjoy it.”


Tiwater pointed out that despite the dire circumstances surrounding the teacher shortage, the State of California has taken strides to improve the situation over the years. In 2016, three separate grants funded a teacher recruitment center in Tulare County, an undergraduate program that provides a quick, easy path to teaching for students in college — one such program is coming to Modesto Junior College soon, Tiwater said — and support for classified employees working in schools to go to school and earn their own credential.


“There’s been so much brainstorming across the state of how can we better prepare teachers, make it more appealing and make them more successful,” said Tiwater.


The SCOE Teacher Job Fair on March 24 will feature some of the county’s largest districts, including TUSD, interviewing candidates and hiring them on the spot. The job fair will take place from 8:30 a.m. to noon at 1100 H Street in Modesto. Registration is currently open and can be completed at


“Most districts are really hypersensitive about finding the best teachers for their students, and when there’s a teacher shortage they can’t find the best,” said Tiwater. “(Teachers) are the ones who will be shaping our future, and it’s such an impressive and powerful job to have when you can really impact kids and society.”