June 26, 2008

Job Market Fails New Teachers

By Dave Weber, The Orlando Sentinel, Fla.

Jun. 26--Florida's newly minted teachers are in a bind.

A double whammy -- budget cuts and declining student enrollment -- has reduced the demand for teachers, and Florida public schools are turning away many of the new college graduates hunting for their first classroom jobs.

They're competing in a market flush with experienced instructors, all jockeying to snag a shrinking number of available positions.

"I plan on moving out of Florida because of it," said Amanda Scoggins of Orlando, who earned a teaching degree at the University of Central Florida in April.

After years of encouraging college students to become teachers, state officials can't promise there will be jobs in Florida public schools come fall. They're hoping it's a one-time crunch that will ease up in a year or so as baby-boomer teachers retire, the economy rebounds and the old standby -- population growth -- kicks in once more to renew the demand for teachers.

"I think we'll see next year that we need teachers at a rate more in line with what has been," said Pam Stewart, deputy chancellor for Florida public schools.

Scoggins, 21, can't wait. She's headed to Tennessee after landing a job at an elementary school. She wanted to work at a school in Seminole or Orange but was told there weren't any openings.

UCF is advising graduates that local teaching jobs could open as the August start of the school year approaches and the districts have a better idea of student enrollment. Though enrollment has been declining across Central Florida and the state, UCF suspects that school districts may have overestimated the drop and will get more kids than expected.

'A great opportunity'?

Recent college graduates will be among the more than 2,500 teachers expected to show up today at the state's annual teacher job fair in Lakeland, though the pickings may be slim.

Only 22 of Florida's 67 school districts are taking part in the job fair, compared with the 40 districts that were shopping for teachers last year.

And some districts, such as Orange, are targeting a few hard-to-fill positions, including teachers for autistic or emotionally disturbed students.

Still, the Department of Education is touting the fair as "a great opportunity for schools to fill critical shortage areas and scout for future teaching talent." Read: No jobs now, but maybe later.

The tight job market for new teachers reaches beyond Florida's borders.

California schools are cutting their budgets, too, with 24,000 teachers, librarians and school nurses getting notices they might not be rehired, and new college grads facing a dearth of jobs. Michigan, Pennsylvania and other states are short on openings for new college grads, too, according to news accounts.

Lauren Wisneski, 23, moved to Maine after graduating from Stetson University in DeLand in May, assuming she would quickly get a teaching position at an elementary school. She has had no luck so far and is considering day-care centers and after-school programs.

Some states still need teachers and are trying to lure them from Florida, just as Florida used to try to draw teachers south to fill shortages. A billboard on Interstate 95 in Jacksonville promises "Your Future is in our classroom" . . . in Texas.

College officials in Florida are urging new teachers to take whatever they can get.

"Nobody I know has gotten a job," said Brandi Zakrzewski, a recent education grad from Stetson, who hoped to find work in Seminole County.

Because of the tight market, principals say they can't hire the young teachers who interned in their schools this spring.

"As recently as two years ago, we were cautioning students not to accept the first offer," said Scott Hewit, director of teacher education at Rollins College in Winter Park. "Now we are telling them that they have to go and find a job, and that they may have to relocate."

Hundreds not rehired

Schools districts in Central Florida didn't rehire hundreds of teachers earlier this month -- 611 in Orange County alone -- saying they couldn't guarantee them work in the fall. Those experienced teachers are first in line to get classroom positions as they open.

That leaves the new teachers -- young, optimistic and often in debt from costly years in college -- wondering what to do.

Glen Epley, who heads teacher education at Stetson, says it'll be a shame if the new graduates can't find places in area classrooms. Many such as Amanda Scoggins may leave the state and be gone for good, he warned.

"These are young, exceptional, go-getter teachers," he said. "Florida is going to lose out on these folks."

How to get by: Be flexible

It's a tough market for new college graduates trying to get teaching jobs. But school officials, heads of college education departments and others have advice for the fresh-faced educators:

*Bide your time: Larry Daniel, dean of the College of Education at the University of North Florida, says that although prospects may look bleak now, he expects jobs to open as the new school year approaches.

*Be flexible: Can you teach biology although you majored in music? "Uh, sure." Be flexible about where you are willing to teach and what you are willing to teach, said Grace Lias, personnel director for Orange County schools.

*See it -- grab it: New grads may have to take the first job they run across and not be as choosy as they might like, advises Mike Hynes with the College of Education at the University of Central Florida.

*Stay in college: Al Bouie, director of recruitment for Volusia County schools, said new college grads might consider continuing their education, getting a master's degree and being better prepared to teach when jobs open in a year or two.

*Consider another career: Gay Parker, president of the Seminole Education Association, said college students majoring in education need to seriously consider whether they can afford to be teachers. Pay is low, many teachers leave the field disappointed within five years, and now the job market is less certain.

Dave Weber can be reached at [email protected] or 407-320-0915.


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