California is experiencing a teacher shortage caused by retirements and by the economic recovery from the Great Recession of 2008 that has created more lucrative career options. But the COVID pandemic turned a shortage into a crisis.
“The teacher shortage is real, large and growing worse than we thought,” the Learning Policy Institute concluded in the study “A Coming Crisis in Teaching? Teacher Supply, Demand and Shortages in the U.S.”
“One thing we’re dealing with right now, and that we don’t know how it’s going to end up, or what the outcome is going to be, is that COVID has changed education,” said Will Sandoval, assistant superintendent of human resources for the Kern High School District.
As the start of a new school year looms this month, Bakersfield Life asked several local veteran teachers — some retired and others still in the classroom — to reflect on their careers and share what they would tell a new teacher just starting out.
Juliet Thorner Elementary School
In 2019, the Kern County Superintendent of Schools named Gigi Maurer a “Teacher of the Year.” The sixth-grade Juliet Thorner Elementary School teacher taught in the Bakersfield City School District for 31 years when she retired in 2020. She continues as a part-time district teacher tutor and teacher supervisor with Point Loma Nazarene University.
Maurer prepared for a career in journalism, but put her plans on hold to be a stay-at-home mother with her children. However, the family’s financial needs required her to get a job.
“Teaching was a great compromise,” said Maurer, whose parents were teachers and she knew what the job entailed. “I found the profession to be a perfect fit for me.”
“The joys of teaching are the relationships I built with my students that have continued into their adulthood,” she said, describing the magic of “witnessing the moment when a student moves from not understanding to understanding a certain concept.”
So is the joy of watching students succeed in life as teachers, nurses, doctors, architects. “Such a joy to know I was part of their journey.”
But the job also came with its challenges.
“It was difficult to raise four kids on a beginning teacher salary. It is much better now,” she said, adding that sometimes uninvolved parents were difficult, but she also had many great parents.
“The biggest challenge was the district’s/state’s unrealistic expectations of teachers. The unending paperwork, school meetings, constant changes in curriculum, new technology requirements, mindfulness training, suicide prevention training, continuing teacher education and the countless hours of lesson planning at home and buying school supplies for my students. It was exhausting and definitely not a joy.”
Despite these challenges, Maurer said she would advise a young person today to go into teaching.
“However, it is important to say that not everyone can or should become a teacher. If one is expecting a high salary equivalent to the required education, then teaching is not a good career choice. If one is expecting praise and recognition for a job well done, then teaching is not a good choice. At its core, teaching is an art form. It is a craft that demands self-reflection and constant growth in the hopes of becoming a master artist.
“A teacher must have a deep passion and an unwavering commitment to the well-being and education of someone else’s child. Many people do not understand our career choice and that’s OK. I think we're kind of odd ducks, really.”
Fruitvale Junior High
Joshua Nelson spent 23 years teaching fifth and sixth grades, and now is a seventh/eighth grade art teacher at Fruitvale Junior High.
“As I was finishing my junior year at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego, I was able to spend three weeks working with kids in Brazil on a mission trip,” Nelson recalled, adding that the experience made him realize he wanted to work with kids, rather than pursue a career in graphic design and communications. After completing a bachelor’s degree, he obtained a teaching credential. His first classroom was in McFarland in 1997.
“As with any job, there are always challenges,” he said. “But I have absolutely loved teaching and working with my students and their families.
“Every day is a new adventure! You never know what one day is going to bring, what discussions are going to be had, what obstacles and solutions will come. And what never, ever gets old or boring or mundane is to see your students when they get it. When they understand. When they create. When that lightbulb turns on,” he said.
“I have loved my teaching career, but would advise those who are contemplating getting into the teaching profession to do so with careful thought and consideration. Teaching is a profession that is led by passion. The best teachers teach, because teaching lives within them. It is an innate part of who they are, not just something they do,” he said, adding that teaching “is not done in a seven-hour work day or a nine-month work year.”
Earl Warren Junior High School
After 21 years of teaching English at Earl Warren and Stonecreek Junior High School, Peggy Dewane-Pope announced her plan to retire in June. Teaching was not her first career. She was first a local journalist, and then a stay-at-home mother and volunteer.
“Shortly after turning 40, I decided to get a teaching credential,” she said, recalling she thought teaching would be a good fit with raising three children.
“Imagine my delight when I loved it! I connected with young teens and learned quickly that respect is earned, not given. I fortunately earned it from many, but junior high is notorious for some negative emotions as students traverse the path from childhood to the teen years.
“My last year, this year, I taught the most wonderful kids. I loved coming to school, even though students had been through a couple rough years — and so had teachers. COVID distance teaching seemed to require so many more hours than contracted time and I agreed to work those hours. I adjusted to multiple learning management systems — Google Meet, Zoom and so much more. It challenged me like I had never been challenged before.
“We’re on the other side, but I see teaching as demanding so much from teachers, administration and staff. A multitude of students struggle with anxiety and other mental health issues and some seem to have missed many lessons on cooperative behavior.”
Arvin Union School District
Michelle McLean retired in 2018 after eight years as the Arvin Union School District superintendent and concluding a 30-year career in public education. She created many of the district’s innovative programs, including a dual-immersion, special education pre-kindergarten and breakfast in the classroom. To reduce suspensions and expulsions, she implemented restorative practices and other programs.
“I always wanted to be a teacher,” she said. “I loved teaching. It was the most rewarding experience I’ve ever had because you truly touch and impact so many children.
“I would absolutely do it again. But I would really do my research on potential districts and learn about how they treat their teachers and staff first.”
Bakersfield High School
Ken Hooper’s path to teaching came through the YMCA in Spokane, Wash., beginning in his youth.
“It was a summer camp with a lot of teachers and folks going to college to become teachers. I have been reading history books since I was in fifth grade. I was thinking of majoring (in college) in business, but kept taking history classes. My junior year, I declared myself a history major to become a high school history teacher,” said Hooper, who teaches at Bakersfield High School.
“I am ending my 33rd year of teaching,” he said, explaining his students and colleagues ask when he plans to retire. “I tell them that the time will come soon enough, but for right now, I am still having a good time.”
He started the Bakersfield High School Archives in the Driller Service Academy, and has spearheaded projects that led to the awarding of high school graduation diplomas to World War II Japanese-Americans, documented Kern County service people who died in military action, and was instrumental in helping establish the downtown Kern Veterans Memorial and soon the World War II memorial in Jastro Park.
“To me, teaching was a calling,” he said. “I knew once I decided to become a teacher, that was the right decision for me.”
East Bakersfield High School
After 24 years teaching at East Bakersfield High School — 21 of those years heading up the journalism program and advising the school’s award-winning newspaper, The Kernal — Randy Hamm put away his chalk in 2014.
Hamm’s path to being a teacher ran through several other careers — youth ministry, farming, radio and a job at his uncle Bob Hodel’s restaurant. Finding none of those jobs “thoroughly satisfying,” he began asking close friends what he should do. “You’d be a great teacher” was a common answer.
“I was nearing 40 and becoming concerned about finding my passion. Someone suggested I read ‘What Color is Your Parachute,’ a book of advice for career changers. Its message boiled down to two simple suggestions: Figure out what you enjoy doing with your time; and find someone to pay you to do those things.
“As I looked back on my work history, working with young people and being involved in communication and education were the activities that gave me the most joy. Sounded like a teacher to me. Teaching turned out to be a really good fit.
“Managing behavior in the most challenging classes was a tough hurdle at first, but I learned the ropes in the first few years. Journalism brought its own set of joys and challenges. Looking back, I think the largest part of my heart was there. There’s nothing like helping students produce a monthly newspaper,” said Hamm, who once found himself caught in the crossfire between his students, who sued the principal, alleging censorship, and his boss, the principal.
“I know teaching has become more difficult in some ways and in some places. But I would still advise young people who love kids and love communication to consider a teaching career,” he said. “It’s hard work with long hours, but for the right person, the daily tasks are quite rewarding.”
Quailwood Elementary School
Stacie Pope is beginning her 17th year of teaching — all in the Fruitvale Elementary School District. This fall, she will be teaching kindergarten at Quailwood Elementary School. She plans to teach for at least five more years.
“Teaching is one of the most direct ways to make an impact in a child's life,” she said. “Teaching is more than just educating young minds. Teaching is being a positive example, a role model, a constant. I wanted to be just that. I wanted to be the person that students know they could trust and look up to. I wanted to be the person that young people can come to when they have a problem.”
Pope said teaching has far exceeded “anything I could have ever imagined. … Teaching can be hard, very hard, but the rewards and joy that come from teaching far outweigh the challenges. When a former student comes back to you many years later and tells you what an impact you have made on their life, the challenges in education become significantly smaller. It's all worth it.
“I would highly encourage any young person to enter education. My daughter recently began her teaching career and I couldn't be more pleased,” she said, expressing hope that her daughter and others experience the same joy, excitement and pride in the career. “I want them to experience encouraging and challenging students to do their best and to never give up.”
Bakersfield High School
For 37 years, Marjorie Bell taught English at local junior and senior high schools. Twenty-four of those years, she taught journalism and was the adviser to Bakersfield High School’s award-winning Blue and White newspaper. She retired in 2004 and remains in touch with many of her former colleagues and students.
“I truly enjoyed my job, because it was a place where I could continue learning and growing,” Bell said. “In teaching I saw the potential to do good things for kids, to be involved in a community, and to support a family, while continuing to grow.
“I would advise teaching only for those who enjoy learning themselves and like to collaborate with peers to improve curriculum and solve problems. Good teachers are creative, hard-working, energetic and responsible adults, who want to make the world a better place. It helps to have a sense of humor and to genuinely like kids. This is not a 9 to 5 job.”
Stockdale High School
A graduate of Stockdale High School, Tori Hill earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees, and a teaching credential at Cal State Bakersfield. She said she was influenced by the teachers in her life to pursue her career.
“When my mom was diagnosed with leukemia my senior year, my teachers were some of the people who supported me the best, as I processed what was going on,” she recalled. “I realized that teachers were more than just educators. They were a daily support system.”
The Bakersfield native has taught five years at Mira Monte High School and will return in the fall to teach science at her alma mater, Stockdale High School.
“I have learned that developing lasting and meaningful relationships with students make difficult times easier and worth going through,” she said. “The last few years have been difficult, with distance learning, but it has also allowed me to learn how to assist students in multiple ways, without them even being in front of me.
“I would absolutely recommend teaching as a career. It is definitely challenging and you have to have confidence in yourself to address difficult students/classes. But it is incredibly rewarding to watch (students) grow and develop into respectful and capable young adults.”
East Bakersfield High School
Now the curator at the Kern Valley Museum in Kernville, Dianna Anderson taught at East Bakersfield High School for 14 years and retired in 2009. Before that, she taught at Bakersfield High School, Wasco Union High School and part time at Bakersfield College.
“From the time I was little, my grandmother told me that I was going to be a teacher,” she said, recalling her grandmother’s words that the job would be easy and would give her lots of time off.
“I wish grandma had lived long enough to see me as a teacher! She had no idea how hard teachers work,” Anderson said, recalling her grandmother was a non-traditional woman, who worked years on the line at the Ford Motor Plant in Compton.
Anderson had a more practical reason for going into teaching. “There wasn’t much else that I could do as an English and history major.”
“I must admit I loved teaching! I loved the kids. I loved watching them grow. I loved watching those light bulbs flash on, when they finally understood a difficult concept,” said Anderson, who headed up East High School’s Health Careers Academy, in addition to teaching a variety of other subjects.
“I was lucky to work with an excellent staff at East High. We had many innovative teachers and we referred to the school, as a whole, as being the ‘Blade family,’” said Anderson, who herself was an East Bakersfield High graduate. “I’ve taught in many schools, but I never experienced the level of collegiality that I had at East.”
A teacher’s classroom “can be the safe haven that many kids need. Our encouragement can make a huge difference in kids' lives. That's what teaching is about! I cannot think of anything that is more rewarding,” she said.