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This Group Wants to Be the Match.com of Teacher Shortages in California

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Can $9.4 million solve teacher shortages in a state? A new California organization plans to find out.

The California Center on Teaching Careers, which launched in October with a $9.4 million budget, is charged by state lawmakers to deliver millions of dollars in grants to support programs that attract, prepare, and retain more teachers—particularly those that focus on chronic teacher shortage areas, including special education, math, science, and bilingual teachers, as well as in rural schools. 


See also: California Teacher Shortages Have Led to 'Severe Consequences,' Report Says


The center, which is spearheaded by the Tulare County education office, has established six regional satellite centers in Los Angeles, San Diego, Sonoma, Shasta, Riverside, and Ventura. The center plans to tackle shortages at the ground level. 

Their philosophy: Shortages are local crises, but they're happening across the state. To find solutions, it will take both the resources of a statewide organization and the focus of local efforts.

To that end, the center will allocate grants, ranging from $100,000 to $1.25 million, to programs that address the shortage throughout the pipeline: by recruiting, preparing, and retaining. 

"We got teased that we are like Match.com," said Donna Glassman-Sommer, the center's executive director. "We're not a program that is promoting any particular agenda, but we are a conduit for helping folks discover their passion, and helping them really understand that it's not one-size-fits-all—whether it's the [teacher-preparation program] or the district, it's helping them discover what is the best pathway." 


See also: Districts Turn to Emergency Measures for Hard-to-Staff Teaching Posts


Glassman-Sommer said she wants to build bridges and facilitate conversations between K-12 school districts and universities.

"It's really important that each side understand what the needs are," she said. "It's not only about putting folks in classrooms, but it's about really looking at what are the obstacles in the way. ... It's going to take everybody. Recruitment doesn't just happen at the HR office."

The center will also guide interested people—whether high school students, college students, or people looking to switch careers—through the process of training and certification via a "vortal" (verical digital portal). The vortal will be personalized so that aspiring teachers can find relevant information on different pathways and learn how to enroll in programs.

Glassman-Sommer, a former special education teacher, said her goal is to elevate teaching as a career. "We really look at teaching as an honorable field to go into," she said.

When she started the work of recruitment, the message to prospective teachers was: Think about your most influential teacher. You can become that teacher to someone else. 

"Now, it's different," she said. "Young people want a social justice message and knowing they are going to make a difference, they can change things, they can have leadership." 

A recent study found that most high-achieving high school students around the world don't want to be teachers. The researcher on the study said that an incentive for top performers would be increased societal value of the profession and a personal call to action: "If they choose teaching, they believe children's development is more important than anything else."

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