Salaries may be low, but demand is high.
For new teachers tangling with certification requirements, there is good news at the end of the red tape. Prospects look bright, especially for teachers of math, science, special needs, and bilingual education, and for those applying in low-income districts.
Trends Favorable for Employment
The big picture, drawn by the National Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers, and federal and state Departments of Education, indicates teacher shortages through 2010. The number of teachers needed nationwide may rise by four percent, according to federal projections for 1998-2010.
The smaller picture shows acute shortages in the South and the West. According to the NEA, California alone will need 300,000 new teachers by 2010. If you are in the Northeast or Midwest, look for jobs in low-income areas. Also pay attention to enrollment and retirement trends. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, public elementary enrollment, which rose in the previous decade, will stabilize through 2010, while public high school enrollment will increase everywhere except in the Midwest and a few eastern states. High school enrollment in 13 western states may rise 11 percent between 1999 and 2010.
As in many other professions, minority and multilingual candidates are in particular demand.
The line of gray heads marching toward retirement is good news for job hunters. In New York State, for example, 56 percent of all school employees in 1998-99 were age 45 or older, with 13 percent of those over age 55.
As in many other professions, minority and multilingual candidates are in particular demand. So, the education graduate most likely to get a job this year will be eligible to teach math, science, or a special need in a low-income high school in the West; will be an under-represented ethnic minority; and will speak the language of one of the school's second-language populations. For this, an education graduate can expect a salary ranging from the low 20s to the mid 30s, but not before undergoing scrutiny worthy of a CIA recruit.
Requirements and Incentives
Teacher candidates face a host of requirements for certification. Provisional certification often requires passing a standardized exam and undergoing a criminal background check. In some states, such as Connecticut, full certification requires a master's degree. However, most states offer alternative pathways to certification. Private schools, which often pay higher salaries, tend to demand master's degrees but not state certification.
Many employers are turning to financial incentives to lure promising educators to areas of need. Massachusetts provides $20,000 bonuses for candidates who meet certain specifications. Some Baltimore teachers receive financial help toward buying houses, and a $10,000 bonus may be in store for new teachers in New York's high-need areas.
Salaries Remain on Low Side
Teaching is not lucrative, according to statistics compiled by the American Federation of Teachers. In 1999-2000, the average salary was $41,820, with Connecticut reporting the highest average, $52,410. Alaska, at $33,676, had the highest average beginning salary, although the California Federation of Teachers is lobbying for a $40,000 minimum. California, New York, Delaware, the District of Columbia, New Jersey, Connecticut, Georgia, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania rounded out the top 10. Offering $20,422, North Dakota was 51st, with Idaho, Montana, South Dakota and Arkansas offering a bit more.
Help Online and In-Person
Some of the best sources for openings, requirements, incentives, salaries, special programs, and resume advice are the organizations mentioned above and the National Teacher Recruitment Clearinghouse (NTRC), all of which have web sites.
If you want to be an English teacher near Houston, for instance, an online search through NTRC will take you to Houston's many listings. A few clicks on Georgia's Department of Education site in mid-May revealed 120 openings in DeKalb County.
Of course, you will want to turn to real people in the real world for help. Consider the advice offered by two educators in western Massachusetts, where demand for teachers is spotty.
"Be specific about your classroom experience," says Anne Mislak, principal of Sanderson Academy, a public school for K-6 in Ashfield. "Mention the grade level and school." Interviewees are asked to bring something indicating their qualifications. "What they bring tells a lot about them," Mislak says, adding that a portfolio is a good choice.
When Anna Garbiel reads resumes from recent graduates, she also looks first for classroom experience, then to transcripts for grades. Garbiel, principal of Montague Center School for preschool through grade 3, in Montague, MA, says references should relate directly to a candidate's teaching experience. The way you present yourself on paper counts a lot, she says, but "be yourself. You should feel very good about yourself if you get an interview."
If you don't, just consider the big picture. Given the need for teachers nationwide, somewhere, someone wants you.
Elizabeth Lambert has written everything from news releases about physics and engineering to scholarly articles on literature and film. Her work has been published in several magazines and journals, including Wisconsin's In-Business Magazine and Twentieth-Century Literature. Her articles on science and literature won awards from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, where she earned a Ph.D. in English, and from the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, where she is an associate professor of English. Lambert is also a freelance contributor to YourWriters.com.