'Will teach for affordable apt.'

California's dot-com prosperity pushes housing prices outside the reach of most teachers. Are subsidies the answer?


July 02, 2000|By Rasmi Simhan | Rasmi Simhan,Sun Staff

If you work for a flourishing Internet company, you can probably afford a $470,000 house or $1,800 a month for a one-bedroom apartment -- the going prices for housing in San Francisco.

But if you are a schoolteacher, living on a salary of about $40,000 a year, expenses in dot-com land are getting out of hand. You may be sharing a cramped apartment with other teachers or driving several hours to work from somewhere you can afford to live.

Some help is on the way, though. Next year, several programs will offer teachers in the San Francisco/Silicon Valley area subsidized housing. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development already backs bank loans and mortgage insurance for teachers. Public housing specifically for teachers will be built in San Francisco this fall. And in Santa Clara County, computer chip giant Intel Corp. and the school district have announced they will sponsor a housing-assistance program.

But what do such initiatives tell us about the state of the teaching profession and the way we view and value teachers? The Sun discussed these issues with Mary Bergan, president of the California Federation of Teachers, which represents more than 100,000 teachers and school employees in that state, and Segun Eubanks, teacher recruitment and retention specialist for the National Education Association, whose ranks include more than 2.5 million educators across the country. Both organizations are taking part in conventions this weekend, in Philadelphia and Chicago, respectively.

How have these teacher housing initiatives affected the image of teachers?

Bergan: There's a lot of agreement that teachers are not paid well enough, so in terms of any change of perception, I don't think there's any great change. I don't think there's any resentment, as in, "Well, why [teachers]?" We have several things the school district is doing, the federal government and the state treasurer have initiatives, but none of them or even all of them together particularly meets the need.

Eubanks: These types of initiatives help bring the recognition that teachers, based on the value they provide to the public and to schools, are perhaps underpaid and undervalued. That's an issue people don't often recognize. Whether or not it has an impact on teachers' ability to own housing in their own communities is yet to be seen. But it's a positive step.

Why do you think 20 percent of teachers nationwide leave their jobs within the first three years?

Bergan: There are a lot of different reasons. Money is one, but more often what we hear is just, 'It isn't what I expected it to be.' That's why you see more and more places where there are support programs for new teachers, like mentoring, so folks don't feel like they're in this by themselves.

Eubanks: It sometimes has to do with salary. What many people point to is dissatisfaction with school bureaucracy, with issues of student discipline and the condition of the school. Often these young people weren't prepared for the reality of schools, either in teacher preparation or exposure to schools. Interestingly, the same data show teachers who don't receive new teacher induction are twice as likely to leave. It depends on the school's willingness to support the teacher in first few years.

How have teachers and parents reacted to the teacher housing initiatives?

Bergan: It's kind of new and geared towards younger folks. We'll see the reaction when we see how many people sign up for the various programs. One reaction I've gotten is that, given home prices in certain parts of the state, it's appreciated but it's not a good substitute for a good salary.

Eubanks: These initiatives are new and there's not enough information about how the communities are responding. In recent surveys the public strongly support the concept of these initiatives. In a lot of recent public opinion polls, the public [also] strongly supports initiatives to recruit qualified teachers and enable teachers to stay in the community, to increase pay.

What makes working as a teacher in expensive areas such as San Francisco worthwhile?

Bergan: What makes it worthwhile is that [teachers] are getting the support they need; teaching conditions themselves are perhaps better than they might be in other places.

Eubanks: Teachers are more connected to the community when they live in the community. They have a much better understanding of what students are experiencing both in and out of school, an understanding of parents and parent groups. They stay after school and participate in activities. It seems clear that living in the community provides benefits for the teaching and the teachers themselves.

How do teachers in these areas live now?

Bergan: They tend to live like college students. Several look for housing that they can share, whether it be a house or an apartment. People are driving very long distances every day, anywhere from one to three hours, depending on the traffic flow.

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