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Chronic Shortages Mark Teacher-Hiring Season

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Bob Vidal is looking for teachers, and he needs a lot of them.

The assistant chief operating officer for the Denver public schools has 450 classroom positions to fill by the fall, and he knows that finding that many new teachers isn't going to be easy.

For one thing, he is looking to hire the kinds of teachers who are always in short supply: special-education and bilingual teachers, and members of minority groups. And he is stuck with a shrinking budget that doesn't allow for much out-of-state recruiting, much less reimbursements to new hires for long-distance moves.

Although he managed to hire 300 new teachers last year, Mr. Vidal admitted that his 64,000-student district hasn't succeeded in recruiting and diversifying as well as he would like.

"What we find in this area is that people want to stay in their own states," he said. "We haven't had great results."

Mr. Vidal's dilemma mirrors a larger issue facing teaching candidates and school districts around the country as they gear up for this year's hiring season: There are chronic shortages in certain subject areas and geographic regions, but it's no simple task to match job-seekers with openings.

Teresa Smith knows all about that. A licensed elementary teacher, she is looking for a job near where she lives in Stillwater, Okla. But the town is "flooded with teachers," she said, because it's home to Oklahoma State University, the school from which she graduated 10 years ago.

Although she has heard of teaching jobs in Texas and in Las Vegas, Ms. Smith said she wants to stay in Oklahoma because of family responsibilities. "I am committed to this area for a while."

Perennial Shortages

In its annual survey of career advisers from schools of education, the Association for School, College, and University Staffing Inc. found no great surprises in teacher supply and demand in 1995.

The survey found the greatest shortage of teachers in Hawaii and parts of the West, and a strong need for special-education, bilingual, mathematics, and science teachers. The survey found less demand in the Northeast and for social-studies and physical-education teachers.

Joe Smith, the owner of Teaching Opportunities, a New Brunswick, N.J.-based bimonthly publication that lists jobs from school districts in 28 states, said a handful of those states are either actively hiring or boosting their hiring efforts. Among them are Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, and Mississippi, he said.

Mr. Smith, who is also a professor of education at Trenton State University in Ewing Township, N.J., said his company makes monthly calls to 7,400 districts to track job openings and hirings. Many teachers want to work in suburban areas near cities, he said, "but if you look more toward rural, even small-town districts, there's less competition."

David Haselkorn, the president of the Belmont, Mass.-based Recruiting New Teachers Inc., a nonprofit group that promotes teaching as a profession, cautioned prospective teachers against broad geographic generalizations.

"It's very important to understand that the teacher job markets in this country are predominantly local," he said.

Mr. Haselkorn urged new teachers to work with career-placement officers at their colleges and to maintain frequent contact with officials in the districts of their choice. He also noted that it is not always easy for teaching candidates to move around the country.

"It sometimes can be more difficult than it ought to be to transfer from state to state, partly because of bureaucratic hurdles to become licensed from one state to another," he said. "That impedes a freer national market of teachers."

A barrier for veteran teachers, he added, is that many pension plans and seniority benefits are not portable.

Mr. Haselkorn's group released a report last week that spotlights school paraprofessionals as a promising source of greater diversity in the teaching force. (See Education Week, April 3, 1996.)

Licensing Barrier?

In the Las Vegas area, where teaching jobs abound because of rapid population growth, district officials want to ensure that prospective teachers won't encounter red tape. The state legislature recently approved a reciprocity agreement that makes out-of-state licenses fully valid for teaching in Nevada, said Edward Goldman, an assistant superintendent in the 168,000-student Clark County district, which includes Las Vegas.

Even without that provision, Mr. Goldman added, teachers with out-of-state licenses are eligible for a three-year conditional license. His district, which he calls "probably the fastest-growing in the United States," plans to hire 1,000 new teachers this year.

Mr. Vidal of Denver said teachers shouldn't be discouraged about Colorado's relatively strict licensing policies.

"I could still put you in the classroom with an emergency certificate," he said. "A decision to come to Colorado isn't going to be based on how easy it is to get your license."

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