“The rent is too damn high.”
This is a great way to sum up a major reason. Los Angeles educators feel burned — and priced — out. According to a recent report by the local teachers union, teacher stress is caused by unaffordable housing, large class sizes, and excessive testing. As the nation faces a multitude of challenges, teacher shortage that, in some regions, has been exacerbated. book bans, parental rights bills anti-LGBTQ+ lawsEven though there is greater academic freedom, educators in these locations still face challenges.
A series of events took place this year. teacher strikes occurred in Democratic-led cities including Minneapolis, Sacramento, Seattle and ColumbusTeachers struck to draw attention to their financial hardships as well as the additional supports they need, according to the teachers at Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). Teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) have similar concerns, with 70 percent contemplating leaving the profession entirely, according to the study “Burned Out, Priced Out: Solutions to the Teacher Shortage.”
United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), released a report last month that analyzed data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, California Commission on Teacher Certification, as well as a survey of more 13,000 educators to identify the key factors that impact teacher well-being. Their concerns are largely economic. Uncompetitive wages not only make it difficult to buy housing, but also have led to more than a quarter working a second job to make ends met, according to the study.
UTLA stated that teachers often face financial difficulties that are even worse for students and their families. Students and their families are more vulnerable to homelessness. Given the grim financial realities that accompany life in one of the nation’s most expensive cities, the union recommends that the school district use its resources to support the emotional and economic needs of students and staff alike.
“Our educators are one of the most educated workforces in the country, and a large percentage of those educators not only have college degrees but also obtain [postgraduate] degrees and certifications,” UTLA President Cecily Myart-Cruz told The 19th. “But our profession takes a wage penalty in comparison to other professions with similar requirements.”
Over the past five years, the average LAUSD teacher earned between $74,000 and $79,000 annually, compared to a salary range of $94,000 to $101,000 for the average bachelor’s degree-holder in Los Angeles, the UTLA study found. Teacher salaries don’t reflect the rate of inflation, the report contends, a conclusion that a recent study from the Economic Policy Institute(EPI) also makes. EPI analysis revealed that teachers nationwide earn 23.5 % less than comparable college graduates. UTLA’s study showed that its members earned 22 % less than similarly educated Angelenos in the 2019-20 school year. To make up for this deficit, 28 percent of UTLA educators work another job to supplement their income, with 24.4 percent of teachers who’ve worked for the district for more than 20 years doing so.
“Los Angeles Unified acknowledges that economic conditions, including insufficient pay, critical hardships and the COVID-19 pandemic, have complicated teacher recruitment nationwide,” a district spokesperson said in a statement to The 19th.
The district did not discuss the efforts it made to retain veteran teachers like Anthony Colla, a language/literature teacher at Eagle Rock Junior/Senior High. He’s taught for LAUSD for 17 years and pads his income by teaching summer school and working 20 hours per week with the education consulting firm he started nearly 10 years ago.
“I have two master’s degrees, and I’m still paying student loans,” he explained. His side gig gives him an additional 30% in income. As a veteran teacher, he’s near the top of LAUSD’s salary schedule, he said, but his net pay is about $5,000 monthly. He’s grateful that he purchased his home 26 years ago, otherwise paying for housing would be a challenge.
“If I had to pay the $4,000 market value rent for the property I live in — I own my home — I would not be able to afford it at all,” he said.
First-year LAUSD teachers make $51,440, according to the UTLA study, which cites a June 2021 district finding that there’s no Los Angeles neighborhood where early career educators can live without being rent-burdened. Tenants should not spend more that 30% of their income on housing, according to the federal Brooke Amendment. This amendment was revised in 1969. This isn’t possible for most UTLA educators, two-thirds of whom report being unable to afford housing in the neighborhoods where they teach.
“It’s huge,” said Pedro Noguera, dean of the Rossier School of Education at the University of Southern California. “And it’s not just teachers. It’s police officers, firemen, all the clerical workers, custodians — if you are not fairly affluent, you can’t afford to live in L.A. And rents continue to rise, so you literally have teachers and secretaries and receptionists who commute … way over an hour each way to work. And that adds to the stress because then you start to say, ‘Is it worth it to travel this far for a job that is paying so little?’”
To enable employees to live in the communities they work, the district has partnered with developers to create three affordable housing projects. It announced last year that it was collaborating with developers to create affordable housing properties where LAUSD employees would be considered tenants.
“Los Angeles Unified is broadening our partnerships to develop new opportunities for families and employees, which directly target housing affordability, working conditions and benefit packages,” a district spokesperson told The 19th. “The district remains committed to leveraging all resources to strengthen school communities.”
That teachers struggle to afford housing indicates that teachers aren’t being paid what they’re worth, said Myart-Cruz. A number of educators she’s encountered supplement their income with gig economy jobs, working for companies such as DoorDash and Instacart during their off hours. March was Airbnb announced a partnership with the National Education AssociationThe collaboration was intended to assist teachers in hosting and raise their wages, but it did not progress. Still, teachers earned more than $276 million from hosting on AirbnbThe company announced that 2021 would be its year.
“It’s ridiculous. It’s shameful,” Myart-Cruz said of teachers having to take on additional work to raise their wages. “And not only that — folks have to grade papers. When do folks have that opportunity?”
Another source of stress for teachers is the series of standardized tests they’re required to give each year. These tests limit teachers’ autonomy and overwhelm students. Students must take at least 100 standardized assessments before they reach sixth grade, according to the UTLA report. UTLA demands that the district eliminate all standardized assessments not mandated by the government.
“You need to assess kids to see how well they’re doing,” Noguera said. “But…I think what’s happened in many districts is they put too much emphasis on assessment and not enough emphasis on instruction. How can you make sure your children get high-quality instruction and all the supports they require? So the teachers are probably right to push back on the amount of assessment that the district requires — not the state.”
Colla estimates that he loses approximately two weeks of instructional time each school year to testing. Colla said that the process has become routine for his students. However, he is not happy with the number of standardized exams he has to administer.
“Especially when you look at what it is precisely that the [test] is measuring, all these standardized tests … are measuring things which may or may not have any real bearing on how well the students are doing,” Colla said.
During a year when teachers in urban and suburban districts alike have engaged in walkouts, Myart-Cruz isn’t ruling out a labor action but called talk of a strike “premature.”
“But let’s be clear that we stand ready to have the conversations with our members about respect,” she said. “Our educators did a yeoman’s job in this pandemic, flipping their entire lives, their entire curriculum to a platform they didn’t even know themselves. First they got applauded for doing a yeoman’s job and then they got lambasted for not coming back sooner. Our educators did that, held it together, and they should be paid what they’re worth.”
Colla stated that teaching online during the pandemic was his most difficult time as an educator. His struggles haven’t ended now that school is back in person for the second consecutive school year. Students still have learning deficits, and he can’t access all of the digital learning tools he needs due to a recent ransomware attack on the district. The recent political attacks on teachers nationwide haven’t helped his mental health either, particularly because he identifies as queer.
“It doesn’t affect me directly,” he said of laws such as Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay.” “But it affects me indirectly because it’s a continuing move in this country to denigrate educators, to make teachers the bad guy, the fall guy, the straw man. It’s a pseudo-intellectual movement where one person’s completely uneducated opinion is considered just as valid as another highly educated individual’s position, and that’s simply not true. The whole move towards ‘Don’t Say Gay’ and banning books — we know what kind of governments ban books. The governments that ban books are fascist.”
Some educators have been forced to quit the education profession because of restrictions on what they can say or teach in certain parts of the country.
“Across the country, teachers are feeling stressed out from the lingering effects of the pandemic just like a lot of kidsSo we have seen rising depression, anxiety and mental health problems among teachers. school shootings have made it worse,” Noguera said. “Then you have the politics of the moment … All of that is adding to the pressures on teachers and making many question whether or not they want to continue teaching.”
UTLA is pushing for its progressive policies in LAUSD as conservative lawmakers limit what students are allowed to read and educators can teach. Myart-Cruz stated that educators should be able afford housing in the areas they teach.
“We have 86 pages worth of proposals, and all of them are righteous,” she said. “But we also need people to have some gumption to do the necessary things to make sure that our kids have holistic learning environments.”
*Nadra Nittle is married to an LAUSD teacher and UTLA member.