Credit: Andrew Reed/EdSource
Teacher Meredith Hamilton greets transitional kindergarten students at Stege Elementary School in Richmond.

California requires 600 hours of student teaching, nearly double the requirement of other states. Student teachers are not paid and student teaching typically lasts for an entire academic year. Thus, most teacher candidates cannot work and student teach at the same time (or it is very difficult to do so). Taking a year off of work is a barrier for potential teachers, especially teachers of color, wanting to enter the teaching profession.

Every person in California preparing to become a teacher needs a $20,000 stipend to offset tuition costs and living expenses to complete student teaching. Those training in such programs also would benefit from a job as a teaching assistant or substitute teacher in the public school district where they are completing their student teaching. This is essential to have teachers in the classroom who look like and understand the histories, knowledge and experiences of California’s public-school students.

California is the most ethnically and racially diverse state in the nation with nearly two-thirds of the populace being Black, Asian American or Latinx. Yet, our teacher workforce does not mirror this diversity: Only one-third of teachers are from a community of color. A 2018 Learning Policy Institute report described how a diverse teacher workforce can have a positive effect on the academic achievement and overall educational experience of students of color. That same report however showed that the burden of additional student loans can discourage people of color from pursuing a teaching career.

Kevin Gutierrez, a fourth-year middle school science teacher at Young Oak Kim Academy in Los Angeles, shared some of the financial challenges he faced during his teacher training at a teacher residency program convening at UCLA in October 2019. He said, just as he was about the start the teacher education program, his family was evicted from their home so the landlord could remodel and raise the rent:

“Finding a new place to live was difficult because rents were so high. So, I had to help pay the new rent. When the program began, I had to work so that I could help out my mom, a single mother. So, I started working Uber from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. It was really difficult, but the faculty were very generous, and they found a grant for me and it helped me out so much. It took so much pressure from my shoulders (edited for clarity).”

Gutierrez’s story is one of many.

During winter 2019, researchers from Bank Street College of Education’s Prepared To Teach program and UCLA Center X surveyed teacher candidates in the UCLA Teacher Education Program about their financial situation. They found that 84% (78 out of 93) of students enrolled in this program identify as a person of color (6 Black, 16 Asian American, 56 Latinx). Our response rate was 80% (73 out of 93). Notably, 82% of students reported that they worry about their financial situation (44% very frequently, 38% frequently).

A majority of candidates reported that they:

  • Worried about paying monthly bills and living expenses.
  • Worried about paying off their student loans.
  • Would find it difficult to deal with an unexpected expense of $100 to $250.
  • Made only a minimum payment on their credit card bills.
  • Needed to work in addition to taking classes and completing student teaching to cover monthly expenses.
  • Took out student loans in order to pay for their tuition and living costs.
  • Received only partial (58%) or no (16%) financial support for tuition.

California policymakers need to expand on programs that underwrite the cost of teacher preparation. California has committed $300 million in the last several years to teacher recruitment programs such as the Golden State Teacher Workforce Award to offset educational costs for teacher candidates committed to working in high-needs schools and/or subject areas (i.e., special education, math and science). These programs however should include every content area and grade level and every teacher committed to working in California’s public schools.

District teachers, administrators and leaders need to persuade school boards to commit to hiring student teachers as teaching assistants or substitute teachers. This investment in soon-to-be teachers not only provides districts an employee supported by the university but a potential new hire who knows the district culture, students and families.

Research has suggested that immersive experiences for student teachers can lead to higher retention rates for new teachers and reduced recruitment costs for the district. A 2020 Learning Policy Institute report provides multiple examples of how districts have reallocated resources, reduced costs and reinvested savings to improve the financial sustainability of teacher preparation.

Teacher preparation faculty and administrators need to develop close partnerships with local districts and schools where veteran teachers and administrators are seen as co-teacher educators with university faculty. These partnerships can be mutually beneficial — the university can help address the specific staffing needs and the district and school site can support student teachers’ learning.

If we want to resolve the teacher shortage by cultivating a workforce that mirrors student diversity, then we cannot let student loans, credit-card debt, housing, etc., be barriers to those considering the profession.

School boards need to provide a cost of living stipend and a job as a teaching assistant or a substitute teacher to those completing their student teaching program in their district. Such a commitment will show that state and local policymakers, universities and school districts are committed to diversifying the teacher workforce to serve our diverse state.

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Jarod Kawasaki is a researcher at UCLA Center X, which works to transform public schooling to create a more equitable society. Divya Mansukhani, director of partnership learning, Francheska Santos, research coordinator, and Karen DeMoss, executive director of Prepared To Teach at Bank Street College of Education, provided data analysis of their national financial burden survey.

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