Plates of cookies and turkey wraps litter the table, a common sight at any hiring fair. A woman sitting behind a table draped in a green cloth listens as a man asks her what jobs he can be considered for with his degrees. He has two, one of which is in Spanish. There’s a great need for Spanish teachers right now, she says, and it’s likely he’ll be able to teach Spanish full-time next year if he follows the right steps.
It’s no secret that there’s a teacher shortage in Oakland. Last August, ten days before the start of school, the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) was short by as many as 77 teachers. The district had trouble filling vacancies in the previous fall as well. According to an SFGate article from 2014, statewide, in 2013 the number of people enrolled in teacher prep programs was just 20,000, down from 45,000 in 2008. The reason for the shortage in Oakland is complicated, but many argue it is a result of the economic downturn, low teacher pay and the rising cost of living in the city.
In an effort to combat the shortage, on Wednesday night, the OUSD partnered with the city and non-profits Educate 78 and Education for Change to throw a teacher recruitment fair at Epic Middle School in the Fruitvale. The goal wasn’t exactly to hand out job applications, but to educate members of the public who might be interested in teaching but are not yet credentialed. Representatives from about 8 universities attended the fair, handing out information on their credentialing programs. Interested attendees who have a degree in a field other than education could pursue an interning credential, which means they would take college courses in education while working as a teacher.
“Instead of waiting for folks to enter programs kind of on their own, we believe that there’s a large group of residents who might be interested in teaching and need more information,” says Sara Solar, the teacher advisory group director at Educate 78. The local non-profit supports efforts to strengthen and expand public charter schools and district-run public schools in Oakland.
While the 2015-2016 school year in Oakland began with 77 classrooms without a permanent teacher, many of those positions quickly filled. “It came dramatically down,” says Aaron Townsend, chief of talent management for OUSD. The number of unfilled positions “varied at different points in the year, but we’ve kind of fluctuated between 10 and 20,” says Townsend, emphasizing that those aren’t the same 10 to 20 positions.
Oakland isn’t the only district in the Bay Area, or even the country, facing a shortage. “The teacher shortage is both a regional, state and national issue,” says Townsend. And its root cause is complicated. Townsend says potential teachers can be discouraged by the low compensation, which he says is more acute in Oakland considering the lack of affordable housing. “We’re trying to show up by increasing compensation. We think that that is essential. They definitely deserve it,” he said, referring to OUSD’s contract with teachers.
The district raised salaries for teachers by three percent last summer. The district is also considering providing affordable housing to teachers. “We’re one of the proposals submitted around the big controversial 12th Street property,” said Townsend, referring to the idea of building affordable housing for teachers on the contested East 12th Street lot, which was previously slated for private development, until community members asked that the city consider alternatives.
When a teacher leaves her job, district officials follow a protocol for temporarily filling that position. “For any vacancy there is a plan. We’re of the position that day-to-day subs is not an appropriate staffing plan,” says Townsend. Certified teachers filled some of the vacant positions at the beginning of the school year, and educators with provisional credentials filled others. “Some of them are doing awesome and have been a great fit. Others, definitely, we’re working on kind of the supports for,” he said.
District officials project around 100 vacancies for next year and they expect that number will rise. However, Townsend is hopeful the district will not be scrambling for teachers next fall. The hiring process has changed as a part of the new teacher contract, voted into effect in June, 2015, after negotiations between the district and the Oakland Education Association (OEA).
In the past, the district was required to place teachers within the district before they opened the job to external hiring, usually in May. But this year the district opened their external hiring on January 25. “Formal hiring committees at each school site have equal say,” says Townsend, giving school sites more autonomy over hiring and allowing the process to have an earlier start.
Correction: On March 3, we updated this story to note Sara Solar’s correct title and organization as the teacher advisory group director for Educate 78.