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Where The Jobs Are

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Welcome to the disparate and confusing teacher job market. About the only thing that can be said with certainty is that your chances of finding a teaching job next fall depend largely on what you teach, where you are willing to work, and the special attributes you bring to the job.

If you're a black special education teacher willing to work in an inner-city elementary school in the Sun Belt, relax: James and his fellow talent scouts will find you. If you teach social sciences or art and are determined to work in a nice suburb near Boston, you'd better prepare yourself for a period of odd jobs and frugal living.

Until very recently, worried educators and policymakers were forecasting a major national teacher shortage for the 1990s. Front page headlines a few years ago proclaimed: "Major Teacher Shortage Seen; School Reforms Threatened.'' Federal education officials estimated that nearly half of the current teaching force would be retiring by 1995. And demographic reports showed that a baby boomlet, now working its way toward secondary schools, would significantly increase the demand for elementary school teachers.

This year's headlines declare: "National Teacher Shortage Is A Myth.'' The much publicized projections of a rising demand for teachers, coupled with improving teacher salaries, led to a 64 percent increase in education school enrollments between 1985 and 1988. The higher salaries also seem to have prompted some veteran teachers to postpone their retirements and to have persuaded many former teachers who had left the field to come back to the classroom.

Any teacher shortages, experts now agree, will be limited to a handful of academic specialties, certain locations, and ethnic and racial minorities.

According to the Association for School, College, and University Staffing's 1991 teacher supply and demand report, there is "some shortage'' in only 15 of the 45 teaching fields. These include bilingual education, English as a second language, foreign languages, mathematics, and science. The association reports "considerable shortage'' only in the fields of speech pathology and special education.

But David Imig, executive director of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, thinks the market may be tightening up even in fields where there have long been shortages. "Anecdotally, I'm hearing about an oversupply of highly qualified math and science teachers,'' Imig says. "Our data show a significant increase in the number of available math and science teachers.

"We're attracting more and better students to teaching than ever before,'' Imig adds. "We've attracted those students because we've led them to believe that a shortage is right around the corner. And with the exception of inner cities we have yet to experience those shortages.''

Academic specialty notwithstanding, teacher supply and demand is very much a matter of geography. The ASCUS survey finds the greatest demand for teachers in the western United States, especially in Alaska and Hawaii. The lowest demand is in the Northeast, followed by the Great Lakes and Middle Atlantic regions--where, incidentally, some of the largest schools of education are located.

The job market is especially discouraging in states with high teacher salaries such as Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey. Partly because of sharp salary increases instituted in the 1980s, more young people decided to seek jobs there. Now, there's a mismatch of supply and demand.

But even these generalizations can be misleading. In some states that report a tight market for teachers, urban school districts--as well as rural ones--are hard pressed to find enough teachers. Says David Haselkorn, president of Recruiting New Teachers, a national organization that seeks to lure high school students and others into teaching careers: "We are seeing shortages varying from region to region, but the worst shortages are in major urban areas.''

Prospective teachers could do much to alleviate the geographical unevenness of teacher supply and demand (and, of course, to further their careers) if they were willing to follow the jobs. But annual surveys conducted by the AACTE consistently find that the vast majority of prospective teachers come from suburbs and small towns and want to teach in or very near their home communities. Only a tiny and declining fraction express an interest in teaching in urban schools.

The disparity between where the jobs are and where new graduates want to teach worries placement officers across the country. Because both new college graduates and people returning to the classroom are either unwilling or unable to go where the jobs are, they note, there are twice as many certified candidates in some areas than there are job openings. And there are many more available positions in large cities than in suburban areas.

The problem is not solely one of parochialism on the part of teachers, notes Haselkorn. He points to "barriers''-- such as the lack of pension portability, loss of seniority, and widely varying certification requirements--that make it difficult for teachers to move from one state to another. "We are impeding the flow between teacher surplus states and teacher deficit states,'' he says. Haselkorn sees the need for a national clearinghouse for teaching jobs, noting that, "It's difficult for a teacher in Massachusetts to find out where the jobs are in Wisconsin or California.''

The most critical and widespread demand in the job market is for minority teachers. As the proportion of the nation's students who are minority steadily increases, the percentage of teachers who are minority remains essentially unchanged. About 30 percent of the present school enrollment, compared with only about 11 percent of the current teaching force, is minority. Moreover, the percentage of minority-group members in teacher preparation programs declined precipitously over the past two decades as opportunities for minorities became increasingly available in other professions and white-collar jobs. Currently, only about 13 percent of the students in schools of education are members of minority groups.

The growing gap between the large numbers of minority students and the disproportionately small number of minority teachers has become a major national issue. Haselkorn believes that there are many more minorities who would like to teach than the present numbers would suggest. His organization has had "a very strong response from people of color'' to its "Reach for the Power: Teach'' campaign. Out of 380,000 callers asking for more information about teaching, 110,000 returned a questionnaire, and out of those, he says, nearly 30 percent were minorities. That's more than twice the percentage of minorities now in classrooms or education schools, Haselkorn says.

The troubled economy adds more confusion to the teacher job market. The ASCUS report notes that cutbacks in educational funding, recessionary economic conditions, and the consolidation of smaller school districts has reduced the number of job opportunities for new teachers.

Since education is the largest item in most state budgets, hard times almost inevitably mean less money for schools. The recession is hitting nearly all states to one degree or another, but it appears to be taking its heaviest toll in the Northeast, Middle Atlantic, and Midwest. Only a handful of states predicted budget surpluses: Alaska, Delaware, Hawaii, Louisiana, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, and Oregon.

Carolyn Wallace, an information specialist at the National Education Association, says the current recession has created conditions in education that are "pretty hectic.'' Some states are laying off teachers because of budget cuts, she notes, while others are trying to avoid that by asking teachers to forgo salary increases.

Howard Nelson, associate director of research for the American Federation of Teachers, agrees. Budgets are being cut in a number of states, he notes, and as a result, "A lot of teachers are getting laid off and furloughed.'' Says Nelson, "It's not a very good market for new teachers.''

--Lisa Wolcott

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