Where The Jobs Are

April 01, 1991 6 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

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

A version of this article appeared in the April 01, 1991 edition of Teacher as Where The Jobs Are

Commenting has been disabled on effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
School & District Management Webinar
Ensuring Continuity of Learning: How to Prepare for the Next Disruption
Across the country, K-12 schools and districts are, again, considering how to ensure effective continuity of learning in the face of emerging COVID variants, politicized debates, and more. Learn from Alexandria City Public Schools superintendent
Content provided by Class
Teaching Profession Live Online Discussion What Have We Learned From Teachers During the Pandemic?
University of California, Santa Cruz, researcher Lora Bartlett and her colleagues spent months studying how the pandemic affected classroom teachers. We will discuss the takeaways from her research not only for teachers, but also for

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Schools Get the Brunt of Latest COVID Wave in South Carolina
In the past few weeks, South Carolina has set records for COVID-19 hospitalizations and new cases have approached peak levels of last winter.
4 min read
Two Camden Elementary School students in masks listen as South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster talks about steps the school is taking to fight COVID-19, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021, in Camden, S.C. McMaster has adamantly and repeatedly come out against requiring masks in schools even as the average number of daily COVID-19 cases in the state has risen since early June. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)
Education More States Are Requiring Schools to Teach Native American History and Culture
Advocates say their efforts have gained some momentum with the nation’s reckoning over racial injustice since the killing of George Floyd.
3 min read
A dancer participates in an intertribal dance at Schemitzun on the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation in Mashantucket, Conn., Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021. Connecticut and a handful of other states have recently decided to mandate students be taught about Native American culture and history. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
Education Judge's Temporary Order Allows Iowa Schools to Mandate Masks
A federal judge ordered the state to immediately halt enforcement of a law that prevents school boards from ordering masks to be worn.
4 min read
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks to reporters following a news conference, Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021, in West Des Moines, Iowa. Reynolds lashed out at President Joe Biden Thursday after he ordered his education secretary to explore possible legal action against states that have blocked school mask mandates and other public health measures meant to protect students against COVID-19. Reynolds, a Republican, has signed a bill into law that prohibits school officials from requiring masks, raising concerns as delta variant virus cases climb across the state and schools resume classes soon. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Education Hurricane Ida Deals New Blow to Louisiana Schools Struggling to Reopen
The opening of the school year offered teachers a chance to fully assess the pandemic's effects, only to have students forced out again.
8 min read
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021. Louisiana students, who were back in class after a year and a half of COVID-19 disruptions kept many of them at home, are now missing school again after Hurricane Ida. A quarter-million public school students statewide have no school to report to, though top educators are promising a return is, at most, weeks away, not months.
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021.
John Locher/AP