2010-04-01 / Local & State

Tough Lesson: Few Teaching Jobs Open In Pennsylvania

By Steve Esack KUTZTOWN, Pa. (AP) –
Linda L. Simmons stood alone at a table amid a sea of people. Few looked her way. It was as if she were invisible.

All she carried was the painful truth to hundreds of job candidates looking to enter Pennsylvania’s education field.

On a blue poster board at Kutztown University’s 29th annual Job Fair for Educators, Simmons had taped a sign on the employment outlook in the Nazareth Area School District:

“We do not anticipate any vacancies for the 2010-2011 school year.’’

“Students have been saying we are not the only ones,’’ Simmons, an administrative assistant in Nazareth, said last week. “Most school districts in the area are not hiring. That’s why we put the sign up, because some kids wait in line a long time and find out there are no opportunities. It’s tough.’’

The job outlook for prospective teachers in Pennsylvania may have never been bleaker.

Pennsylvania colleges and universities have always graduated more education majors than there are teaching positions in the state’s 500 school districts.

The Pennsylvania Department of Education issued 20,050 teaching certificates in 2008-09, according to the most recent records. Of that total, 6,381 were for elementary education. Social studies (1,113) and English (1,411) were the top certifications issued at the secondary levels.

“You know what they normally say, ‘All social studies teachers have the same name: Coach,”’ said Kutztown senior Jared Haas, 21, of Linglestown, Dauphin County, a football player who hopes to parlay a social studies teaching job into a coaching position – or vice versa.

Mary Novak, 22, of Lancaster will graduate from Kutztown in May with a certificate to teach English to seventh- through 12thgraders. She brought half a dozen resumes to the job fair to hand out to urban districts, like Allentown and Reading, where she wants to work.

There aren’t even jobs for supposedly hard-to-fill secondary math and science positions like the one Terry Chrapacz, 52, has been looking at since switching careers.

What’s happening is few districts are hiring new teachers because enrollments have leveled off in the down real estate market, which shows no sign of rebounding. Some districts, like Bangor Area, are laying off teachers to keep tax hikes as low as possible. Others, like Bethlehem Area and Easton Area, are bracing for program cuts and potential downsizing too.

To top that off, older teachers are putting off retirement, according to the Public School Employees’ Retirement System, which covers teachers, principals and other public school employees. Retirements dipped to 8,551 last year, the lowest number since 2003, records show.

The best hope for job seekers is to land substitute teaching jobs that offer no health benefits or to move to southern states, like Maryland and Virginia, that are desperate for teachers.

Geoffrey K. Bond, a personnel officer for suburban Baltimore County Public Schools, said his district is growing and plans to hire teachers next year.

Still, Bond said, the market is so crowded, colleges need to help students prepare better. When attending job fairs, Bond said, it’s not enough to carry a resume. Job seekers should bring completed applications from school districts where they want to work because each district has a different hiring process.

“Schools do a good job of preparing them for teaching,’’ Bond said. “But they could do a better job of preparing them to get jobs. They need to tell the kids to be more proactive.’’

Lock Haven University senior Gary Nettles was. The 23-year-old health and physical education major put his resume, certification letter and criminal background clearances on compact discs he handed to Noelle Keeler, human resources specialist for the East Penn School District.

“You’re going to a job fair,’’ Nettles said. “You’ve got to stand out.’’

Keeler accepted it but turned away dozens of plain resumes because she isn’t sure East Penn will fill anticipated vacancies created by retirements.

For Jerlin Strickland, 27, of Allentown, one of the best and most old-fashioned ways to stand out was to tout her hometown pride. After spending 45 minutes in line to meet with Allentown School District officials, she made sure to tell them she is a 2000 Allen High School graduate who switched careers because she yearns to work with children.

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