Teachers in High Demand

By Matthew Lintner — February 21, 2008 5 min read
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If you’re looking for a teaching job, there are a couple of things you should know. One is that the term teacher shortage doesn’t necessarily apply across the board. The other is that is it strongly applies to areas like math and science, special education, and English-language learning.

These are known as high-demand areas in teaching because they are of increasing importance in the nation’s education landscape and because schools, in turn, desperately need to hire more educators to teach them.

As the following examples show, these high-demand fields--though they require some specialized training—can be rife with opportunities for educators.

Math and Science Teachers Wanted

Political leaders across the spectrum have singled out improving math and science education as a strategic national priority. President Bush’s own American Competitiveness Initiative has called for 70,000 additional math and science teachers by 2015, and a number of legislative initiatives exist to support and provide incentives to teachers in these subject areas.

School systems already scrambling to meet the “highly qualified” provisions of No Child Left Behind Act are targeting college graduates who can teach math and science.

Dan Greene, who teaches 9th graders at Downtown College Prep, a charter school in San Jose, Calif., had no plans of becoming a math teacher. An information systems major in college, Greene was introduced to teaching through a series of summer student-teaching internships. After graduating from college, Greene was offered an emergency-teaching license allowing him to work full-time while completing evening courses in pedagogy.

Greene now gets satisfaction from helping his students reach their potential. “Students bring with them a lot of self-doubt and math anxiety,” he says, noting that many of his students start the year behind grade level. His approach is to “provide lots of scaffolding to break down the standards into component parts.” He advises aspiring math teachers to “listen to their students and have a lot of patience.”

Lynn Riggs holds a degree in neuroscience, uncommon for a teacher in an elementary school, but for her it has led to a rewarding professional life. As the science resource specialist at Bailey’s Elementary School in Falls Church, Virginia, Riggs coordinates science instruction for grades K-5. When not working with students, she supports classroom teachers in developing inquiry-based science units. She was named her district’s teacher of the year in 2006.

“I was brought up in a house of scientists,” says Riggs, who seeks to share her zeal for science with others.

Riggs believes aspiring science teachers should be both scientifically literate and inquisitive. She encourages her own students to formulate questions, design experiments, gather evidence, and communicate their thinking with each other. Rather than feed students the “correct” answers, Riggs argues that effective science teachers “guide students on a path of inquiry.”

Multi-Tasking in Spec. Ed.

According to the US Office of Special Education Programs, approximately 6.8 million young people currently receive special education support. Special education teachers assist students with a wide range of needs, from mild learning disabilities to severe cases of autism and mental retardation.

James Brauer first became interested in special education working as a teacher’s aide. A grant through the University of Kansas allowed Brauer to teach while pursuing a fully funded master’s degree in adaptive special education. Now a special educator at Eisenhower Middle School in Kansas City, Mo., Brauer collaborates with subject teachers in modifying lessons for students with learning disabilities.

“In special education, you have to be a jack of many trades,” says Brauer. “You need to know assessments, federal and state laws, school policies, and the characteristics of many different disabilities.”

Brauer estimates he spends 90 percent of his day working with students and the other 10 percent handling administrative duties. Special education teachers are responsible for writing individualized education plans, conducting observations, and attending regular service meetings.

“A special education teacher has to have strong communication skills and the ability to maintain relationships with different parties,” he notes. When those parties disagree, it often falls on the special educator to advocate for the best interests of the student.

Sarah Kasen, a special educator in Charlottesville, Virginia, recommends that aspiring teachers spend considerable time learning the student-eligibility process. “Student teaching prepares you for working with students, but not necessarily managing the administrative side of the job,” she says.

She notes special educators must be disciplined at managing their own time, multi-tasking, and paying attention to details. Paperwork is part of the job.

Learning From English Language Learners

After spending 19 years as a community organizer for immigrant causes, Larry Ferlazzo decided to become an educator. He enrolled in a one-year teacher credentialing program and did student teaching in an English-language learning classroom. Ferlazzo now provides English language instruction to students at Luther Burbank High School in Sacramento, California.

“You need to want it. You need to have an appetite to work with English language learners,” says Ferlazzo, who was motivated to become a teacher after watching the way some educators seemed to lower expectations for English language learners. He found their approach babyish and insulting.

“English language learners bring an enormous amount of prior knowledge and competence,” he says. “We learn as much from them as they can learn from us.”

In addition to helping his students acquire fluency with the English language, Ferlazzo teaches California’s social studies standards. He says aspiring ELL teachers need to be resourceful: “There are many creative ways to develop higher order thinking skills.”

As preparation for ELL teaching, Ferlazzo recommends traveling abroad and learning another language. “It is valuable to know what it is to learn another language,” says Ferlazzo. “Get some other experiences.”

Pathways to Teaching

Teachers interested in such positions can explore various pathways into the profession. The need to fill high-demand positions is so great that some school districts are willing to consider applicants without traditional teaching licenses. “We have a variety of programs to assist career changers in becoming teachers,” said Pedro Rivera, executive director of human resources for Philadelphia Public Schools. “Most entail teaching while going to school to earn a teacher’s certification.”

Many districts offer similar programs, as well as financial incentives to ease the costs of transition.

In all cases, aspiring teachers should contact a district’s recruitment office directly for more details about the hiring process.


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