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Soon-to-be Graduates Worry About Job Market

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Around Franklin College's education department, the news reaching senior Molly Carrier gets worse every day.

More school districts are cutting teaching positions or freezing hiring. A high school in Rhode Island tells all of its teachers they're out of a job. The only jobs are in Texas, Arizona or North Carolina, and even those will fill up quickly.

"When people hear I'm graduating, they automatically comment on the state of the job market," Carrier said. "It's hard to hear that every day and still look forward to graduation."

At a time when schools around the county and state are facing budget shortfalls and open jobs are increasingly scarce, the final months of college have taken on a somber tone for many student-teachers. The current economy has soon-to-be graduates wondering when, where or even if they'll find a job.

"Hearing everything that's going on makes the task of finding a job seem even bigger," Franklin College senior Melody Garrette said. "At times, it seems overwhelming because I know how much work I will be putting into a job, and I'm hoping that work will pay off."

All across the country, schools are reporting widespread teacher layoffs. Since fall 2008, more than 125,000 jobs in education have been cut, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

"This year, there seems to be all of these things stacked up against our new graduates, so they'll have to be very persistent in their job searches," said Kirk Bixler, director of professional development for Franklin College. "They may have to look in other parts of Indiana or other states to find what they're looking for."

Every April, Franklin College hosts an education-specific job fair. The past five years, the event has attracted more than 100 school corporations, who accept resumes from students and make connections for future interviews.

So far, only 40 schools have registered for this year's fair, Bixler said.

According to a report by the American Association for Employment in Education, last year saw the steepest decline for teaching jobs in almost 30 years. School corporations cited the uncertain economy as the reason for the dearth of open positions.

Franklin schools, for example, most likely will need to cut 20 teaching positions from their budgets, though a majority of those will come from retirements. Greenwood has had to eliminate three positions, also through retirement.

"It's almost daily that we're hearing from school systems that are laying people off," said Teresa Meredith, vice president of the Indiana State Teachers Association. "That doesn't mean (graduates) can't find a job; it's just going to be excruciatingly difficult to find one."

Schools will be hiring in two waves over the next six months, Bixler said. The first will come at the end of April and into May, as school districts that know they have positions to fill will take interviews and make hires.

The second round will occur over the summer, as administrators re-evaluate the incoming students and any teachers who have resigned or retired suddenly before the school year start, Bixler said.

To maximize their return, he has been advising students to be as broad as possible when considering how far they'd move to get a job. He has recommended looking at Texas, Arizona, the Las Vegas area and North Carolina, fast-growing areas in need of teachers.

"Students that are only looking at Johnson County need to look someplace else," he said. "If they can get experience somewhere for a year or two, when things settle down in Indiana, they can come back."

But Kendall Paris, a Franklin College physical education major, says she won't consider moving away from central Indiana. Her family is centered in Johnson County, and she graduated from Franklin schools.

Paris also coaches girls soccer at Franklin Community Middle School, where she helped start the program.

Her desire to stay in central Indiana has given greater urgency to her student-teaching this semester at Clark-Pleasant Middle School. Catching the eye of her administrators could put her in line for vacancies that arise over the next several months.

"Every day is a job interview," she said. "I'm trying out for a possible position, so I have to be the best I can every day."

If nothing becomes available this summer, she is prepared to stay in Franklin, taking classes to earn a master's degree. She will continue coaching soccer and fill in as a substitute teacher if that's what it takes, Paris said.

"I'm willing to wait a couple of years to see if it works out before I do something drastic like moving to Florida," she said.

If graduates don't find a job right away, Paris' strategy of staying in contact with local districts is best, Meredith said. Taking a job as a substitute, a fill-in for a teacher on maternity leave or by tutoring will keep them in touch and aware of potential openings.

"There has to be a point where the pendulum swings back and jobs are available," Meredith said. "But they have to stay connected in the field to take advantage of that when it happens."

The U.S. Department of Labor projects that between now and 2018, education jobs will increase by 13 percent. That spark of hope is what convinces Franklin College senior Trent Whaley that he'll land a job, even if it's not immediately after graduation.

"I think that every senior education major at Franklin College is aware of the budget situations," said Whaley, who is earning a degree in elementary education. "I still try to remain positive about the situation. I take comfort in the fact that people will still decide to have children, and those children will need to go to school."

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