Where Have All The Jobs Gone?

New teachers face a job market plagued by cutbacks and layoffs

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Two years ago, when Wendy Carlson decided to go back to school to get her teaching credentials, the future looked bright for people who wanted to teach mathematics and science. But during the time Carlson was enrolled at the University of California at Davis, the nation dipped into a recession, and California politicians were forced to raise taxes and cut spending to deal with the nation's largest state budget deficit.

When Carlson began looking for a teaching post near her home outside Sacramento, she recalls: “A lot of school district officials laughed. They said, `Have you not heard we're letting teachers go?' Persistence landed Carlson a five-month job at Andrew Carnegie Intermediate School in Orangevale. She was hired the day before school started.

Across the nation, the economic downturn is making it difficult for many newly trained teachers to find work. Fiscal concerns are forcing school districts to cut back on course offerings and lay off teachers, and some states are finding it necessary to abandon school reform programs that had increased their demand for teachers. The anemic economy has also prompted many highly paid veteran teachers to delay their retirements, which means that districts are not hiring as many new teachers.

“It seems to be an extremely tight market,” observes Charles Marshall, executive director of the Association for School, College, and University Staffing. “It puts a lot of pressure on teacher candidates, who do a lot of legwork in trying to find positions.”

Unfortunately, the recession's effects are being felt at the same time that policies designed to improve the quality and supply of teachers are beginning to bear fruit. Many worry that bleak job prospects may dampen the resurgence of interest in teaching.

“We had reached a point where some of the best-qualified students at the university were giving serious consideration to teacher education,” says Carlton Stedman, dean of the college of education at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tenn. “Now we are coming up against a market situation that I'm afraid is going to interfere with attitudes about coming into the profession.”

North Carolina's budget woes, for example, have not escaped the notice of the aspiring teachers now attending college under the state's “teaching fellows” forgivable-loan program. If the fellows do not teach, they have to repay the $20,000 in loans they received for their educations.

“The anxiety level of our seniors and our juniors with regard to `Am I going to find placement?' is very high,” says Jo Ann Norris, associate executive director of the Public School Forum of North Carolina, which sponsors the program. And with good reason. In Connecticut, one of the first states to experience the economic cool down, students who cannot find teaching jobs have already been saddled with loans they cannot repay.

But what worries Norris more is that the budget cuts that already have severely affected education reform programs in North Carolina may make teaching a less attractive profession. “We have said that things are changing in North Carolina and that you will have more input as to the conditions under which you work,” Norris says. “If the funding crisis diminishes those initiatives to any great degree, I think the signal that it sends is of more serious concern than whether there will be jobs.”

As always, the job market for teachers depends on a variety of state and local factors that make it difficult to generalize about the current demand for new teachers. But placement directors, teacher educators, state and district officials, and national teacher-recruitment experts say there is no doubt that the current outlook in many places is gloomy.

One organization in a unique position to gauge teacher demand nationally is Recruiting New Teachers, formed in 1986 to encourage people to enter teaching and to raise the standing of the profession through public-service advertisements. Andrew Calkins, the organization's executive director, says the “partner” groups that receive information about prospective teachers from Recruiting New Teachers “are in a kind of a holding pattern.”

“They're waiting to see what happens next year and the year after” with the national economy and state budgets, Calkins explains. “They continue to value our services, but right now many are facing budget cutbacks so severe that they don't even have the postage to mail out recruitment letters.”

In the meantime, the organization has unveiled a new television advertising campaign that is geared as much toward rallying public support for schools as it is toward encouraging people to consider becoming teachers. “We're afraid that all of the bad press about teacher layoffs and poor classroom conditions now may be persuading some good people to look elsewhere,” he says. “That's something we have to fight pretty directly.”

Most education schools have not finished surveying their spring graduates to find out whether they had landed jobs. But several placement officials say that recruiting was down at spring job fairs on campuses and that fewer school districts are advertising open positions. Richard Hearin, director of placement for Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, calls the market “considerably tighter” for 1991 graduates than it was for those who finished school in 1990. Part of the reason, he says, is voters' continued resistance to passing tax levies for their schools. In Ohio, for instance, the cutbacks districts have been forced to make have thrust many experienced teachers into the job market. “There are more and more candidates chasing fewer jobs,” he notes.

Barbara Horsly, 27, who graduated from Miami University last spring with a master's of arts in teaching, never anticipated that she would be faced with such a discouraging job hunt. After all, she had heard about how the nation needed smarter, better-prepared teachers, and she earned a 3.9 grade-point average in her graduate program. She chose teaching after considerable soul-searching and figured it was a better bet than communications, which was her undergraduate major. “Sometimes I feel like I've got two useless degrees now,” she complains.

Instead of teaching high school social studies, Horsly is working as a part-time teaching assistant in an adult-education program in Harrison, Ohio, and considering taking a job outside of teaching. “I was given the impression that it's a lot easier to get a job teaching than it is,” she says. “You always hear how hard it is to get good teachers, but then when you have good teachers, they can't get jobs. I know so many people who can't get jobs; it seems like you hear it more and more.”

While Horsly says she would prefer to teach in a rural area and would gladly relocate to take a teaching job, many newly licensed teachers continue to be less flexible. At the University of Tennessee, for example, 12 of the 50 school districts that had planned to interview students last spring canceled their trips because no one signed up to interview with their representatives.

“Our students tend to be very parochial in terms of where they choose to interview,” says Robert Greenberg, director of career services for the university. “They would rather wait tables and substitute teach when the opportunity comes up than move 150 miles. You'd hope that teachers would want to see other parts of the country, or even the state.”

The shortage of jobs in some fields and in some school districts is also forcing some officials to counsel students to make themselves more marketable. High school students participating in South Carolina's “teacher cadet” recruitment program, for example, are now urged to double-major in such shortage areas as foreign language or special education. “We say to them: The jobs in the future may not be in the school, the district, and the city you want to live in at first,” says Janice Poda, director of the South Carolina Center for Teacher Recruitment. “But you have to be mobile and go where the jobs are, and then move when you get experience.”

The recession has taken a particularly heavy toll in New England and in Sunbelt states like Florida and California where, recession or not, school enrollments are booming. Like some of his colleagues nationwide, John Hansen, president of the California Educational Placement Association, says he is saddened by the lack of job opportunities in teaching and angered because it bears so little relation to the needs of districts and students. “They are stacking classes up to very large numbers of students, all the way up from elementary to high school,” he says.

Although Dade County, Fla., expects its enrollment to grow this year by more than 12,000 students, the school district was forced to hire all of its more than 1,000 new teachers as one-year permanent substitutes. Continuing uncertainty over Florida's budget, which is heavily influenced by fluctuations in the state sales tax, made it impossible for the district to make a commitment to the teachers. The number of new teachers hired in the district also dipped because officials had to find new teaching positions for 600 veteran teachers who were displaced when the district cut $130 million from its budget and increased class size.

Even special education, where teachers are always in demand, has been affected by the cuts. Some school districts have reassigned displaced teachers with minors in special education to teach in that field instead, while others are trying to place elementary art and music teachers whose jobs have been cut in special education classrooms under out-of-field licensure procedures.

For the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, the challenge of the 1990s will be to preserve the salary gains teachers made during the 1980s. Efforts by policymakers to make beginning wages for teachers more competitive with those paid to people in other professions helped attract people to teaching during the last decade. At the same time, teachers' real wages have been rising since 1985.

“The question is: Can we maintain that?” says John Dunlop, the NEA's director of collective bargaining and compensation. Spiraling Medicaid costs and other social programs, he warns, are competing with education for scarce budget dollars in most states. “Teacher pay tends to ride a roller coaster in good times and in bad times,” he says, “and we need to try to even that out.”

In the meantime, many new teachers—drawn to the profession by reports of improved pay and high demand—are asking a far more basic question: Will I find work? Carlson, the teacher from Sacramento, considers herself lucky to have a job—even if it is only for five months.

“Hopefully,” she says, “I'll get to keep it.”

Vol. 03, Issue 04, Pages 12-13

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