CSUS taps hundreds of students to battle teacher shortage

Dominique Williams, an English and ethnic studies teacher at Burbank High School, listens to speakers at a teacher-recruitment seminar at Sacramento State on Thursday. CSUS is trying to help solve the teacher shortage by recruiting students in other majors.
Dominique Williams, an English and ethnic studies teacher at Burbank High School, listens to speakers at a teacher-recruitment seminar at Sacramento State on Thursday. CSUS is trying to help solve the teacher shortage by recruiting students in other majors.

Hundreds of students at Sacramento State received the call to action.

“Congratulations! One of your professors … has nominated you as someone with the qualities to become an outstanding teacher,” read the letter to 300 students. It invited them to come to the “Celebration of Teaching Event” at the university last week to learn about the school’s teacher-education program.

California will have a shortage of 106,000 teachers in 10 years, California State University, Sacramento, President Robert Nelsen told the assembled crowd of about 200 who had accepted the invitation.

“We desperately need to increase the number of teachers and we need to do it now,” he said.

The teacher shortage has forced school districts to offer subsidized housing or signing bonuses to lure teachers, while others have hired teachers on temporary permits, waivers or intern credentials. The Sacramento City Unified School District reached out to China and the Philippines this year to find scarce science and special-education teachers.

The district hired 12 teachers from the Philippines, including a credentialed science teacher with experience teaching in an International Baccalaureate program.

“We were very fortunate,” said Tiffany Smith-Simmons, a SCUSD human resources director.

Such efforts have resulted in the district reducing the number of teachers with short-term staff permits to 30.

Sacramento City Unified is among several local districts also trying to convert bus drivers, office staff members and custodians into teachers. The districts are embarking on a partnership with the Sacramento County Office of Education that will use a state grant to help pay the tuition of district employees who want to become educators. One hundred staff members have expressed an interest in the program, Smith-Simmons said.

Sacramento State’s College of Eduation is still a primary source of new teachers for the district, however. Sacramento City Unified officials have been hosting meetings between teacher candidates and district principals during the past year.

“We have been offering them open contracts so they can start thinking about getting ready to go into the classrooms,” Smith-Simmons said.

The hiring frenzy is a reversal from the recession years that left 32,000 California educators unemployed and college students discouraged about enrolling in teaching programs. Now, additional state tax revenue has enabled schools to reduce class sizes and restore programs eliminated during the economic downturn, resulting in a need for even more teachers.

Sacramento State students on Thursday listened to teachers and counselors talk about their experiences and learned about the CSUS teaching program and possible scholarships. Local school districts sent representatives and packets of information about salaries as well as how to apply online.

“It’s running up this excitement about teaching and that’s really what we are looking for,” said Stephanie Biagetti, chairwoman of the teaching credential program. “We are trying to plant a seed in their mind. If it’s not right now, perhaps sometime in the future. … I would love to see every one of these students in my program.”

Most of the students in attendance said they were considering becoming teachers.

“Hearing the speakers, it kind of got me,” said LiAne Phe, 23, a senior geology major. Phe started school with Cambodian as her first language. She said she understands how important it is for students to have teachers who understand their culture and language.

Phe is the type of student the teaching program is trying to recruit. Biagetti said the university’s goal is to address the teacher shortage and increase diversity in the teaching force.

“The diversity of our teaching-prep program doesn’t match the diversity of the university, she said. “This is a perfect way to recruit from within.”

Half of the potential recruits at the event were Latino, 20 percent were Asian, 8 percent were African American, 8 percent were Caucasian and the rest were listed as unknown, said Elisa Smith, CSUS spokeswoman.

The university also is seeking students for difficult-to-fill teaching positions in special education, math and science. California districts were able to find less than half of the fully qualified special-education teachers they needed in 2014-15.

Annalisa DiLeonardo, a senior who is visually and neurologically impaired, was accompanied by her guide dog. Her “terrible” experiences as a special-education student made her want to become a teacher, she said.

“I believe that no matter what a kid has – if they have Down syndrome if they have cerebral palsy – no matter what, a child can learn, even if I have to teach them a different way,” DiLeonardo said.

Sacramento State’s effort seems to be working. Enrollment at the teaching college is on a slight upswing from its all-time low of 370 candidates for credentials in 2013-14, less than half of what the university had seven years before. Nelsen said the university graduated 400 credentialed candidates last year.

“We’ve got a long way to go,” he said. “We need you. We need you to think about teaching.”

Diana Lambert: 916-321-1090, @dianalambert