A talk with SFUSD's Chief Human Resources Officer and Director of Recruitment and Human Capital Support
Many of us have read the sobering news stories about growing nationwide teacher shortages, and we know that San Francisco has struggled to fill large numbers of open positions over the summer for the past two years. What challenges exist in hiring and retaining teachers in SFUSD? What strategies is the district employing to attract and retain qualified teachers? What role can parents and community play in supporting teachers?
We recently discussed these topics with Monica Vasquez, SFUSD's Chief Human Resources Officer and Scott Gaiber, Director of Recruitment and Human Capital Support. Here's what we learned:
Shifts in Demand and Workforce:
Three years ago we were still facing yearly funding cuts at the state level and SFUSD was forced to lay off teachers. As more funding has flowed to education in California in the past two years, there has been an opportunity to restore many of the positions that have been cut and hire additional teachers but other districts are also hiring again. Teachers, especially those in harder to staff areas like special ed, STEM, bilingual education, and in our district PE, are in high demand.
Monica Vasquez also noted that generational shifts in attitudes toward work need to be accounted for. Today's workers in all professions are more likely to stay 2-3 years in a role and are accustomed to receiving real time feedback on performance. They thrive in workplaces where they are recognized and have opportunities to advance as they gain experience. This may not align with the current model of the teaching profession built on steep learning in the first few years and little room for recognized advancement after teachers receive tenure. She speculated on a need to accelerate the learning curve.
In recognition of the more competitive job market for teachers, SFUSD has made several shifts teacher recruitment and hiring. Rather than waiting to hire in the spring and summer when many qualified teachers have already been hired by other districts, SFUSD has shifted to a system of recruiting and hiring year round - at least for hard to fill positions and hard to staff schools. Early hires are not guaranteed a specific school, but can be guaranteed a job based on projected vacancies. [Collective bargaining agreements restrict the type of positions that can be filled by "new hires" before teachers with seniority in the district have been given an opportunity to apply for those positions]
Why do teachers leave SFUSD? Currently there are no exit interviews given to teachers who leave their positions in SFUSD, however a voluntary survey is given and about 47% of teachers who left last year returned the survey. Top reasons for leaving include financial reasons, cost of living, relocating outside of the bay area and dissatisfaction with the administration -- in that order. Last year was the first year that financial considerations were the number one reason cited.
Results of a 2013 national survey of teachers by Scholastic and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
What are the reasons teachers stay in their jobs? Despite financial pressures, many teachers do stick around and return to their schools and classrooms year after year. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the factors that contribute to teachers job satisfaction and retention include relationships with colleagues and school community, and school and district leadership -- including feeling that leadership has a vision they connect with.
What can parents and community do to help?
1) Make new teachers feel welcome and supported
2) Communicate respectfully with your child's teacher
3) Appreciate teachers at your school: small gestures make a big difference
4) Get involved at the policy level: join groups looking for creative solutions to provide affordable housing for teachers in SF
5) Spread the word in your community about alternative pipelines to the teaching profession. Examples include the Para to Teacher Program and the San Francisco Teacher Residency.
Two big issues: 1) we need more substitutes and 2) more resources being invested in teacher professional development has created more demand for substitutes to cover for teachers as they learn new skills and practices.
SFUSD's human resources department noted difficulties last year covering all of the requests for "release time" so that teachers could attend valuable - and sometimes mandatory professional development. This year a new system has been implemented to better coordinate requests for PD to ensure that substitute teachers are available to cover all classrooms. Teachers now must make a request two weeks in advance and there are caps on the number of teachers who can request release time on a given day.