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Outlook for New Teachers in Job Market Rosy

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When school begins in Maine Township High School District #207 this fall, things are going to look more than a little different.

Ninety-three of the 440 teachers in the 5,600-student Illinois district will be new to their jobs--more than 20 percent of the teaching staff. Dozens of other districts throughout the state are experiencing similar dramatic change, brought on by a statewide early-retirement program that is expected to encourage some 10,000 teachers to leave the classroom this year, several times the normal number.

News of the abundance of jobs has spread quickly through schools of education in Illinois and surrounding states this spring, and job applications have poured in by the thousands.

As rookie teachers nationwide race to find a teaching job before school begins in the fall, Illinois has offered one of the brightest jobs markets in the country.

Up-to-date information on the teaching-job market is sketchy. But an informal survey of placement officers, education professors, and school district administrators from around the country suggests that the outlook for new teachers is good.

"We're optimistic about the future,'' said Charles A. Marshall, the executive director of the Association for School, College, and University Staffing. "In general, people report that jobs are there.''

In addition to Illinois, several regions of the country--notably the Carolinas, Texas, and Nevada--offer excellent potential for graduates, Mr. Marshall said.

Indeed, Mr. Marshall and other experts say a crucial factor in the job search for many new teachers is their willingness to go where the jobs are.

"The candidates have to throw their nets as wide as possible,'' Mr. Marshall said.

A teacher's area of specialization also plays a role, he said.

The perennial shortage of bilingual- and special-education teachers means that candidates in those fields can often pick and choose from among several offers--even in otherwise gloomy job markets such as California. At the same time, the demand for teachers in some subjects or grade levels, notably elementary education, is often tight even in growing areas.

'An Upbeat Group'

In Illinois, however, the demand for new teachers runs the gamut of subjects and grade levels.

That means good news for the roughly 800 new teachers graduating from Illinois State University. "It's an upbeat group,'' said Paul Schobernd, an education counselor there. "This is a good year for job looking.''

Despite the competition from graduates in other states, "we're happy to have this kind of market,'' Mr. Schobernd said. "People are getting interviews.''

Many of the jobs are clustered in the Chicago metropolitan area, which is also where many of the new teachers want to work.

Kristen Salathiel, a 27-year-old native of Traverse City, Mich., will be one of the 93 new teachers this year in the Maine Township district, which is located in the suburb of Park Ridge.

Ms. Salathiel was the first of her classmates in the program for a master's degree with teaching certification at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor to land a job.

Finding a position early, she said, has freed her from the anxiety of a job search at a time when she needs to concentrate on her studies and her student-teaching at a suburban-Detroit high school.

Worrying about resumes and applications now, she said, "would put a lot more pressure on me during student-teaching.''

Advantageous Connection

Ms. Salathiel heard early on about the job openings in Illinois, and began looking at districts there in December. At a Christmas party in Chicago, she met a teacher from Maine Township, who asked for her resume.

"I was so lucky to give my resume to that woman at the party,'' Ms. Salathiel said. "When 3,000 people have applied, having any connection at all gives you an advantage.''

She went back to Chicago for interviews during spring break, and was offered a job early in March.

The heavy turnover and massive number of applicants helped Maine Township select top-quality teachers, Assistant Superintendent John T. Benka said.

Maine Township was one of seven districts northwest of Chicago that held a job fair in January. So many applicants showed up, Mr. Benka recalled, that more than 2,500 had to be turned away.

While acknowledging the loss of valuable experience from veteran teachers, Mr. Benka said the infusion of new teachers brings exciting possibilities. "These are the young people who are going to lead this district into the year 2000 and beyond,'' he observed.

Early-retirement programs also can offer substantial fiscal benefits to districts, since the newly hired teachers generally earn considerably less than those they are replacing. (See Education Week, March 23, 1994.)

Carolina Prospects

Although few areas are experiencing as much turnover as Illinois, several states present bright prospects for graduates.

In North Carolina, for example, a healthy economy and a string of governors committed to education have kept the teaching-job market healthy, said Charles R. Coble, the dean of the school of education at East Carolina University.

"The students we're graduating here are finding positions,'' he said, "though they're not necessarily finding them in the locations they had initially intended.''

But even within North Carolina, there is considerable geographic variation, said Lisa M. Pittman, the assistant director of career services at E.C.U.

Fewer jobs are available in the eastern part of the state, she said. "Students who are willing to relocate, to go to the middle or western part of the state, that makes them just so much more marketable.''

In Florida, meanwhile, the job market for new teachers has rebounded after a two-year slowdown during 1991-92 and 1992-93 caused by fiscal woes, said Martha Miller, a policy analyst with the state education department.

It should cruise along steadily, with about 10,000 public school teaching vacancies a year until 2010, Ms. Miller said, while adding that some of those jobs will go to experienced teachers changing jobs or moving from other states.

Multicultural Needs

But even where jobs are scarce, there is demand for bilingual- and special-education teachers, and especially teachers who are members of minority groups.

"In general, what I hear is that most inner cities are trying very hard to bring teachers into the classroom that are reflective of the communities,'' Mr. Marshall of the association of school and college staffing said. "They're trying to find a pool of candidates that meet those multicultural needs.''

Such jobs are available even in states such as California, where budget problems are forcing districts to increase class sizes and cut back on hiring replacements for teachers who leave or retire.

In the 23,000-student Kern High School District in Bakersfield, for example, "We've increased the number of kids in a class for each of the last four years,'' Associate Superintendent James R. Fillbrandt said.

Most districts have made similar hard decisions, Mr. Fillbrandt said. And even if most large metropolitan areas are hiring, "They're not looking for the numbers [of teachers] they used to, because of the economic problems that are pervasive.''

Despite the bleak outlook in California, Mr. Fillbrandt echoed the beliefs of officials in other states who said most teachers who are willing to relocate will wind up in a classroom by fall.

"If you have an outstanding student teaching experience, and make an outstanding impression on the interviewers, they're going to look to find work for you,'' Mr. Fillbrandt said.

"An outstanding teacher is still hard to find,'' he added, "and is still the most important element in education.''

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