Teacher shortage and departures? Not here. Alisal’s staff perseveres, thrives


Marco Nunez

The importance of character – Freshman English teacher Jane Albano teaching and discussing with one of her students, Matthew Sans Cruz, the setting and various characters in Of Mice and Men. “If you’re going to come into teaching then it has to be love, not only of the subject, but love of the students as well,” Albano said.

The United States is facing a teacher shortage. Although teaching is an important profession for the next generation, it has been a struggle for many, and much of the talk in the media has been about teachers leaving the profession, due to the pandemic and other factors. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, “nearly half (44 percent) of public schools currently report full- or part-time teaching vacancies.”

However, despite those challenges, many teachers persevere. Some persisted through the COVID-19 pandemic, which has been identified as a cause for 61 percent of teacher vacancies, according to the NCES. Here at Alisal, students have been given the opportunity to have some of the most resilient teachers in Salinas; teachers who are willing to sacrifice and teach from the heart.

Almost a third of the teachers have taught at least 10 years at Alisal, with seven teaching over 25 years.

Jane Albano, a freshman English teacher for House E, is one of them. This year marks her 50th year of teaching, however, she has wanted to teach ever since her time as a student of Alisal. 

“I actually started as a Journalism major and when I found out I couldn’t become a teacher with that major, I switched to being an English major,” Albano said. 

With her being part of one of the first graduating classes of Alisal, she has been surrounded by and taught thousands of students over her career. She notes that they are the primary reason she has stayed. 

“I get to see [the students] for four years in high school… and a lot of them come back to visit. That’s the best part, watching them succeed, find themselves, and find some sort of success within themselves,” she said . 

Another alumnus of Alisal is Ignacio Mendez. He graduated from the University of California, Berkeley in 2001 and the Harvard Graduate School of Education in 2002. After coming back home and several years of teaching, he eventually became the AP English Literature teacher for seniors, where he remains teaching today motivating students to pursue college, though he notes that his passion for teaching started early on in life. 

“It was probably early on when I was in elementary school. My teachers would always have me helping people and at first, it was really frustrating… but once I realized the joy that came when somebody figured out how to do something, that’s when I decided I realized I wanted to become a teacher,” Mendez said. 

Other teachers originally joined under different circumstances, such as Milton Grant, another Alisal alum. He came from a career as a systems analyst before transitioning to education where he’s currently a freshman AVID teacher for House P.

“I actually started teaching at juvenile hall and I did a couple of years of teaching alternative education through the Monterey County Office of Education and I fell in love with the profession and interacting with the students,” Grant said.

Similarly, Anna Rosa Martinez did not necessarily discover her passion until later in life. She had approached the district office in search of a job and when she found one as a substitute, she took it and fell in love ever since. She currently teaches Spanish and AP Spanish Language and Literature to students of Alisal today. 

“After subbing I loved it. I liked the interaction with the high school kids, they keep you on your toes and young. However, it’s also my passion for the subject… especially the culture aspect of it. Feeling that connection with all of the students and making them feel proud of where they come from and loving where they are and who their family is; it’s so much fun,” Martinez said.

All of them agree that it’s the students that are the main reason they have stayed. However, many concede that some parts of the job can be difficult at times

“It’s hard because there’s such a big learning deficit due to the pandemic that some students are so deficient in English, Writing, Reading, Mathematics… it’s sad to see because that’s our future,” Grant said. 

Additionally, COVID has contributed to poor student behavior, with the pandemic causing students to miss in person classes in 7th and 8th grade, a hallmark of social development for many students.

“COVID created a very different group of kids,” Martinez says. “I’ve been teaching since 2005 and I had to acquire a new skill set of teaching methods. A lot of new teachers found it quite difficult because us as veteran teachers could only give them suggestions on how to teach and unfortunately the pay is not the greatest.. it doesn’t add up to a perfect world. Salary, long hours, and a lot of stress, I think that’s why a lot of them left ”

This notion is popular amongst teachers across not just California, but across the entire country. A study conducted by the NCES in 2015 showed that 17.3% of teachers had stopped teaching after a five-year period, although one must note that these numbers could be drastically different whatwith COVID-19. Additionally, a survey conducted by the National Education Association, the United States’ largest union for educators, found that “55% of [its] members say they are more likely to leave or retire from education sooner than planned because of the pandemic.” Some measures have been proposed such as providing mental services for students and raising educator salaries, but many teachers find that it ultimately lies up to those around them in school to see change. 

“It starts from the top,” Grant said. “Whether that’s salary, better medical benefits, better sick leave, maternity leave, and better accommodations overall as we were on the front lines of the pandemic.” 

Change, as some have noted, must also come from people of our nation as a whole.

“With a cop or a soldier, they’re thought of as heroes. Yet when many think of a teacher, we’re volunteers, we’re not heroes,” Martinez said. “Movies as well, they play us as if we make ten dollars an hour, as if we’re starving and drive a junkie car, as if we’re living in our parents’ basement. Don’t get me wrong, the salary starts low, but it gets better and I think it all comes down to change from the media and the government.” 

Despite this, although there are some changes that could be made, all of these teachers are happy to keep teaching, because they realize the potential our students have. 

“We’ve always talked to new teachers and said that if you go into teaching, it can’t be because of the money,” Albano said. “It’s got to be because of the love of the subject, but mostly, love of the students.” 

The future of teaching remains a mystery. Some students regardless of a teacher’s best efforts will fall through. But each and every year, there will always be those who succeed because of a teacher and frankly, if a teacher can accomplish that, then that’s a job well done.

“I always try to remind my students that they’re all meant for greatness, some listen and some don’t,” Mendez said. “But if I can get to one student every year then that’s a big difference already made.”