By Connie Llanos, Staff Writer | http://bit.ly/eDkCkK
2/19/2011 - U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan visited a Los Angeles Unified high school Friday as part of a nationwide effort to encourage more teens to think about teaching as a future career.
But during the hourlong event at the Edward Roybal Education Complex, the crowd of students insisted on highlighting the financial crisis plaguing their schools.
"You say that education is the way out of poverty right?" 16-year-old Yamilet Miranda asked Duncan from the crowd. "So then why is education always the main target during budget cuts?"
Miranda's observation came just three days after the school board approved sending layoff warnings to 5,000 teachers because of a $408 million deficit facing the district.
Miranda said she dreams of becoming a special education teacher, "but with everything that's happening today, I don't see a future in teaching."
Joined by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, singer John Legend and boxer Oscar De La Hoya, Duncan told students that he knew these were incredibly difficult times for local schools.
Despite the dismal situation for teachers, however, a shortage of educators is expected to affect the country in just four to six years as baby boomers begin to retire.
He also said there is an immediate need for more minorities to join the teaching ranks.
"I want our educators to reflect the diversity of our students," Duncan said.
"Today, only 1 in 50 teachers is a Latino male... I need you to think about coming back to your community and becoming a teacher, a social worker, a counselor, a coach."
Villaraigosa also urged the crowd of primarily Latino teens to think about the impact they could have in the neighborhoods by going into the field of education. Nearly three-quarters of all LAUSD students - but only one-third of its teachers - are Latino, he said.
While the mayor encouraged the teens to pursue teaching careers, he also took a moment to stress that current rules that allow teachers to be fired based on their seniority in the district, need to change to make the field more attractive to young people.
"We need to make sure that all our decisions on hiring ... are based on who is the best and brightest... based on performance," Villaraigosa said.
David Arias, a Northridge Academy High School teacher who spoke on the panel with Duncan and the mayor, said his seniority of six years will probably not be enough to prevent him from getting a pink slip this year.
Still, he said he hoped he could motivate students to see past today's tough circumstances and focus on the possibilities a teaching career could bring them.
"It might seem dire now but in five years we won't remember these times," Arias said. "I don't worry about my future because I'm a teacher... I have the skills to be successful in this and many fields."