SACRAMENTO, Calif. — In California, roughly 100,000 teachers are needed to fill classrooms according to the California School Boards Association.
A topic of discussion — aside from teacher pay — is how the landscape of teaching has changed post the COVID-19 pandemic and how classrooms have become political sources of tension.
Kim Carroll and Dave Wallace both teach high school within the Roseville City School District. They have seen decades of change. They recently spoke with ABC10 about how the classroom and the education industry have changed over the years — especially since 2020.
"I think that to be a teacher in California right now," said Wallace, a freshman English teacher. "It's kind of the worst of jobs and the best of jobs."
"Between the political pressures and post-COVID, teachers in California — and I should probably only speak for myself — are tired," said Carroll, an AP Psychology teacher.
The landscape of teaching
"Kids haven't changed, their world has changed," said Carroll. "To be a teenager in 2022 is not the same as being a teenager in the 90s."
"I'm just gonna say it, the phone has changed so much," said Wallace. "When I started teaching, you know, to begin a class, there was always this process you had to go to, to quiet kids down, because they're all talking to each other, now, they're not talking to each other. They're all sitting at their desks staring at their phones. So to get the class started, you have to get the phones out of their hands, and that has all sorts of ripple effects. It's harder for kids to work in groups with each other because they're not used to socializing in the same way that kids used to."
Enter the COVID-19 pandemic which forces students to stay home and go through online learning and also experience mental health issues.
Diana Lambert, the senior education reporter at EdSource — an independent non-profit organization that focuses on education in California — says changing student behaviors led to one of the reasons so many teachers have left the profession.
"Things have changed dramatically since the pandemic, honestly," said Lambert. "One of the biggest problems that I'm hearing over and over again is student behavior. Student behavior since the pandemic, probably because of problems with social-emotional issues, has really gotten bad in some classrooms and teachers have left. There's one teacher who is like a year from retirement, eligible for retirement, and she just decided it wasn't worth it and moved to Oregon. Not to be a teacher, just moved to Oregon and retired because she said, the student behavior was so bad that she was having panic attacks in her car before school every day. Kids were yelling at her, screaming at her, and so she just couldn't do it anymore."
"The job of teaching has become more complicated," said Wallace. "We're also social workers in a lot of ways. We are mental health counselors to a certain extent."
Wallace added that the students who were on Zoom and didn't experience learning on campus before high school are "more immature coming into high school."
He went on to say, "I think it's the academic skills in terms of how to be a student, how to study, how to work in a group, how to focus on an assignment, concentrate on it, and see it through to the end, resiliency, not just giving up."
Carroll pointed to students' life outside of the classroom and after the final bell.
"During COVID, there were no extracurriculars. They didn't work jobs, they didn't have soccer," she said. "They didn't have clubs on campus, they just did school. So now when they're back in school, wanting to do all those things, they don't know how to juggle school and those things. So we're having to reteach them...in all of my classes, for as long as I can remember, I have talked about wanting them to leave better human beings, that as a social science teacher, I want them to be more aware that there are more perspectives in the world than they even know of, and to ask questions, and to listen, learn to listen to be good listeners, they'll end up being better friends, they'll end up being better sons and daughters, they'll end up being better partners in life. If they can learn to listen and to accept other perspectives."
Impact of COVID-19 politics on the classroom
"The schools have become political sources of tension in the country," said Wallace. "I can see someone not wanting to face those sorts of pressures and say, I can find a job at this company where I can work from home, or I can go work for the state — and a lot of the state jobs you can work from home, and they also have a good pension and good health care — so it might be something that would dissuade them."
Meanwhile, Carroll pointed to the momentum switch of public opinions on teachers being seen as "heroes" than being told, "you can't pick your own books anymore."
"I mean, we're hired by the state of California, we have standards, we have all of those things," she said. "But just that extra pressure from politics, from parents, from those things are new. That would potentially scare me out of the profession at this point.
"I'm seeing more (educators) considering things in education outside of teaching. More of them thinking, you know, I think I want to go to the county level, I think I want to go to the district level, I think I want out of the classroom. Not necessarily wanting to leave the profession of education altogether, but wanting to find ways to love what they do, but not do it in the classroom anymore. And that makes me sad. Because I feel like there's some amazing teachers who have real connections with kids that are burning out."