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Demand for Technology-Savvy Workers Falling Short of Supply

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One school-hiring expert says candidates whose r‚sum‚s show technology experience move to the top of the list.

A recent teacher education graduate says she had to teach herself how to use a computer because she learned so little in college.

And an education-school administrator says districts sometimes have inflated expectations of what new hires who are technology proficient can do.

Despite their divergent perspectives, all three agree on one thing: The demand for teachers and administrators with technology experience is increasing and the supply of educators with those skills is often on the short side. Finding a way to address that gap, then, has been an ongoing predicament for education schools as well as school districts.

The challenge of recruiting computer-savvy educators is a crucial issue for the people who make hiring decisions, according to Herb Salinger, the recently retired executive director of the American Association of School Personnel Administrators in Sacramento, Calif.

"Our personnel people across the country feel this is an area where teachers come unprepared as applicants," Mr. Salinger said. The need for administrators with experience in current technology also is beginning to surface, he added.

And though some education administrators attribute the supply-and-demand gap to a lack of communication in the past, teacher colleges and school districts are now working to clarify their goals and expectations.

Conversations between colleges and districts have become richer in the past six years or so, according to David G. Imig, the executive director of the Washington-based American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education. "I don't hear the mismatch when I talk to deans."

Demand in all Areas

From the demand perspective, at least, school districts' needs have become clear.

"If you can say you're computer literate and are able to work on both IBM and Macintosh [compatibles], your r‚sum‚ goes right to the top," said Joe Smith, a hiring expert.

Mr. Smith owns Teaching Opportunities, a New Brunswick, N.J.-based monthly publication that lists jobs at school districts in 28 states, and is a professor of education at Trenton State University in Ewing Township, N.J.

"If I were a teacher who was moving, technology skills are the one thing I'd make sure I'd have," he said. "If you're going after an administrative position today and don't have any computer experience, you're on the short side."

As an example, Mr. Smith pointed to one prospective social studies teacher who had computer-programming experience. The teacher was hired to work on a school's computer network 80 percent of the time and to teach social studies, a subject for which there is an abundant supply of teachers, the remainder of the time.

"Now he's really in an excellent position because he's going to get tenure, and he can go either way," Mr. Smith said.

The need for computer skills extends beyond teachers as well. The Iditarod, Alaska, school district, for example, is in the midst of a search for a superintendent with technology experience.

That requirement is not surprising, considering that the vast and remote district, spread out over 41,000 square miles, requires everyone from students to administrators to be proficient in technology in order to perform basic communication.

But Spike Jorgensen, a former Alaska superintendent who is working as a consultant for a national search firm to help find a candidate, said requests for administrators with technology experience are becoming more frequent in less remote locales across the country.

"I think it's becoming more and more common everywhere," he said.

Mr. Salinger of the AASPA said that although districts' needs varied according to their level of technology preparedness, schools typically look for teachers who understood how to use the Internet or various software packages as learning tools in the classroom.

For principal-level positions, he said, districts place a greater value on a candidate's practical understanding of instructional technology rather than administrative technology know-how.

But at the central office level, said Mr. Salinger, because most districts keep records on computers, candidates for jobs in those offices generally need to have some knowledge of data processing and spreadsheets.

Teachers Teach Themselves

Still, many of the would-be employees who would like to have their r‚sum‚s catch the eye of employers complain that their education-school experience did not equip them with the technology skills that could make them more marketable.

"You would not cut it if you stopped with what they gave you," said Wanda Johnson, a newly certified teacher in Wisconsin.

When she was studying at the University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh, Ms. Johnson said, she had a course in instructional technology that covered topics ranging from graphics programs that easily could have been self-taught to "silly things, like how to rewind a videotape when you're done with it."

Ms. Johnson, who is looking for a job near her hometown of Omro, said most of what she knows about computers she taught herself.

Ms. Johnson said that when she goes for job interviews at schools, she often wows administrators with her portfolio of computer-oriented lesson ideas.

"You can tell they don't know very much about computers because they're just stunned," she said.

Cynthia Van Gilder, a recent graduate of Alvernia College in Reading, Pa., said her school did not offer much along the lines of classroom training on computers. But, she said, the amount of technology skills a school can teach is limited.

"Things have changed so much with the development of the Internet that it's hard to come up with a curriculum [to teach teachers]," Ms. Van Gilder said.

But Debra Relyea, another prospective teacher who is completing her certification at the University of Texas at San Antonio, said her professors assign technology projects such as linking up with other teachers across the country.

She said she bought a computer so that she could have access to the numerous teachers' sites on the Internet's World Wide Web.

"There's so much help out there on the Web, it's a resource for me," she said.

Tapping Into Experience

Regardless of the shortcomings recent graduates may cite, teacher-educators consider technology training a major priority. Beginning in the fall, for example, all accredited schools of education must meet new standards for technology instruction in teacher preparation in order to become or remain accredited, according to the Washington-based National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education.

And Mr. Imig of the AACTE said there is no reason why a new teacher should graduate without having some idea of what schools are doing with computers, given that a majority of education schools have associations with K-12 schools.

"If teacher candidates aren't exposed to this in universities, certainly they're going to be exposed to this in real-life settings," he said.

Recognizing the need for training, many schools have embraced developments in technology.

Mary Diez, the chairwoman of the education division at Alverno College in Milwaukee, said her school is conducting an ongoing assessment of technology instruction.

"We've really tried to conceptualize it as a thread that works through the curriculum," she said. "We meet weekly to look at the thread to make sure it's not broken."

Alverno College also has assembled a group of students who are designated "technology scholars" and work with faculty members on technology issues--a collaboration that Mr. Imig said is not unusual.

"We're getting a new generation of teachers in schools who have grown up with this stuff, and generally they are in a position where they can help more seasoned teachers," he said.

But Dennis Ray, the director of the Center for Educational Partnerships at Washington State University in Pullman, added one caveat to establishing that kind of relationship in schools.

When districts look to new teachers to take a leadership position in helping the "old guard" with technology in the classroom, Mr. Ray said, it is sometimes burdensome for new teachers at a time when they are still learning the ropes in the classroom.

At the same time, he said, districts' demands for that kind of experience are not unreasonable. "They want not to have to retrain teachers that are coming out now in the same fashion that they're having to provide training for the corps of existing teachers."

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