Between the stress, financial burden and the added responsibilities from COVID-19, Nicole Fefferman was forced to step away as a teacher in Los Angeles.
"We do too much with too little and for too little," she said. "We just don't have enough support and resources to make things right."
From coast to coast, and everywhere in between, school officials spent the summer struggling to fill teacher vacancies.
"They're tired. The stress, the inability to feel that they are respected," said President of the California Teacher's Association Toby Boyd. "It's a crisis and we need to figure out how to remedy it."
Boyd said the problem is two-fold.
"The respect is one, but we have to pay our educators what they are truly worth," he said. "We come into education because we have a passion to teach the next generation. But just because it's a passion doesn't mean it should be looked at as a deficit and you don't need to be compensated for what you're doing."
Teachers have left the workforce at an unprecedented rate, leaving educators in Southern California searching for ways to fill the vacancies.
"I am not the only teacher who has stepped away," said Fefferman. "This is an exodus. This is a national problem."
When CBSLA inquired in late July, the Santa Ana Unified School District said it employs more than 2,600 teachers and was looking to fill 99 positions. Torrance Unified School District, which employs 1,200 teachers, said they had 50 vacancies.
"If you don't have an educator that will be in front of that child, what do you think the outcome will be," said Boyd.
The Los Angeles Unified School District, the second-largest in the country said while it employs 25,000 teachers there was many as 2,100 openings earlier in the summer.
However, on July 29, LAUSD Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said that a majority of the openings had been filled, leaving only 900 open positions. In a statement, LAUSD attributed the big boost to its hiring efforts to principals returning to campus in late July.
"The Division of Human Resources has worked very closely with Local Districts and schools to ensure we are referring potential candidates to school sites to fill vacancies. Our dedicated hiring advocates are supporting principals with setting up and facilitating interviews. These yielded positive results in filling vacancies, but especially after the return of principals and assistant principals on July 20 and July 29 respectively. In preparation for the 2022-2023 school year, we implemented the following multi-pronged research-based practices:
· Offering of Early Contracts for Teachers
· Hiring Incentives
· Localized and Districtwide Hiring Fairs
· Partnerships with Local Institutes of Higher Education
· Alternative Certification Programs
· Grant opportunities to broaden and diversify pipelines
Additionally, this year we also implemented strategic staffing conversations with schools to determine school site and student needs related to staffing, ensuring that we are monitoring the posting of vacancies and removing vacancies as coverage is identified."
Last week, the district updated the number again with only 200 teacher vacancies.
"We find it very improbable that the district was able to fill 700 vacancies in less than two weeks," said UTLA president Cecily Myart-Cruz.
Cruz added that LAUSD continues to fall behind in pay and class size which makes vacancies an issue year after year.
"For me, it was about finding a career that could feed my heart and my brain," said Fefferman.
Fefferman had been a teacher for 16 years, 15 of which with LAUSD. Slowly that passion began to turn into pain.
"The pressure of the system that we work in was really just grinding me down," she said. "I could feel it impact all the pieces of my life. I wasn't the same teacher in my classroom... When I came home I was a mess for my family. It just felt like I wasn't doing good for anybody."
Fefferman said the decision to step away for a year angered her.
"Because I know I am a good teacher and I have done good work," she said. "I feel like I was pushed out."
Educators said that only time will tell what the long-term ramifications will be on students and the education system as a whole.
"That learning gap was there before the pandemic," said Boyd. "The problem is that the pandemic shined a light that the gap was there — people weren't listening and looking at what was happening.
"I hope that our leadership sees that this is a crisis and it needs to be approached as a crisis and addressed as a crisis before things get really, really bad."
If the apparent crisis is not addressed, Fefferman believes that more teachers will be forced to make the same decision she did.
"I think more teachers will leave if there is no change," she said.
Carvalho said that if there were any unfilled positions, the district will bring in credentialed staff from its office to cover those classrooms.
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