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Graduates Learning Education Degree No Longer A Hot Ticket

Tight Municipal Budgets, Layoffs Hit Schools Hard And Make Competition Fierce

Mara Lee

May 08, 2011

Since April was the best month for hiring since the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008, students graduating from University of Connecticut today have reason to be cheered about their job prospects.

That is, unless they're one of the 300 students coming out with education degrees, hoping for a public school teaching job this fall.

UConn's education graduates both undergrads and those with master's degrees are the first wave of more than 1,500 would-be teachers from state universities and private schools such as the University of Bridgeport, St. Joseph College, Sacred Heart University and Quinnipiac University.

The job market for new teachers in Connecticut just keeps getting bleaker, even as the private sector gradually recovers. Municipal budgets are squeezed, older teachers hurt by the recession are staying in the classroom a few more years, and laid-off teachers are competing against the new graduates.

It started faltering in the 2009-10 school year, when there were 129 applicants for every elementary school teaching job. Public school openings fell from about 4,500 to about 2,950.

For years, school systems had been replacing about 9 percent of their teaching workforce every year. Suddenly, it was just 6 percent.

It stayed about the same in 2010 but it's expected to get worse this summer.

Ashli Hoxie, 22, a student teacher in a first-grade classroom at Edna Stevens Elementary School in Cromwell, hasn't applied to any jobs yet. She's graduating this month from Central Connecticut State with a bachelor's degree in elementary education.

"I'm not getting my hopes up," she said.

She said not only are more schools cutting teachers than hiring, those who are hiring are asking for three to five years of experience. Her hometown of Winsted laid off teachers, she said, who will now compete with her for jobs.

Hoxie is one of 89 education majors graduating this year from Central, 39 seeking elementary certification. Of last year's Central education graduates, 43 percent got full-time jobs in education, which could include some who settled for a paraprofessional job.

Stevens School hired a long-term sub for the final three months of the school year to fill in for a teacher on maternity leave, Hoxie said and there were 720 applicants.

"A lot of people are like, 'Oh, I'm never going to get a job.' I just keep my head up," Hoxie said.

No Substitutes

The University of Bridgeport has seen the market change drastically in the last two years.

UB has a larger class of master's degrees in education than any school in the state this year, at 366, and 90 percent have not yet worked as teachers. While the students' tuition is paid for by the school districts that give them internships, even without burdensome loans, hundreds of graduates who wanted to teach in their home state will be disappointed when they enter the job market.

In the 2008-09 school year, more than half had jobs at graduation, said Joyce Cook, director of internships for University of Bridgeport. Of last year's graduates, only about 26 percent got a regular teaching position, and about 30 of those 90 teachers had to move to North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Virginia to do so.

"I think it's going to be even tougher this year," Cook said. "What most of our students do, they frequently move into long-term subbing in their school."

But when school districts have 720 applicants for a three-month substitute job, it's clear that even the traditional fall-back is not so easy to come by, especially at the elementary school level, where the oversupply of candidates is greatest.

While Connecticut is not seeing it yet, there could be increased competition in this summer's candidate pools from some of the 4,100 teachers that New York City plans to lay off. Those cuts were announced Friday.

Jill Faulkner, 26, of Trumbull, graduated from UConn with a communications degree four years ago and moved to New York for an administrative assistant job at mlb.com, then got promoted to a human resources job.

Her father had a stroke in 2009, and she returned home to care for him. Commuting to the city was a drag for a job that didn't fulfill her. She decided to get a master's degree in elementary education from the University of Bridgeport, and finished her student teaching this week.

She hasn't had any job interviews out of her 15 applications, and not only needs to stay in Connecticut, but wants to be reasonably close to where her father now stays in assisted living.

"I hate the idea there's a possibility I might not be in education this fall. It's definitely an anxious feeling," she said. "I don't know if I really have a Plan B right now. Do I look for a summer job? Or do I look for something that's more of a full-time position and then possibly having to leave if I get a teaching job?"

A Better Secondary Market

The hiring picture is brighter for graduates who can work in middle and high schools, but there are still far more would-be English and history teachers than there are openings.

Christine Barile, 22, is graduating from UConn's combined bachelor's/master's program today, in secondary English.

She made the second round of interviews for a one-year job in a Simsbury, filling in for a woman on maternity leave. She was one of about 55 candidates interviewed for a job in her Long Island hometown but the district went with a teacher who had some experience.

"You're up against teachers who have been working for five years," she said. "That was also a temporary one-year position I was kind of surprised experienced teachers would go for it."

She said a lot of her UConn friends in the elementary concentration haven't had a single phone call, but she noted that many districts will hire during the summer.

"I knew it was bad for elementary, I didn't realize it's this bad" for secondary English, Barile said. If she doesn't get a job, she'll move in with her parents on Long Island.

"I have a ton of debt," she said. "Since I'm out-of-state, tuition is a lot, I have a lot of loans."

Paul Griswold, 22, is also graduating from UConn's combined bachelor's/master's program in secondary English. He'd like to work in a middle school, and has had one interview, but didn't make the cut for the second round. Griswold, whose parents both work in public schools, would like to work in a diverse district Berlin, his hometown, was pretty homogenous, he said.

He prefers the stability of public school, but thinks he might have to consider charter schools, which are aggressively recruiting at UConn.

"Charter schools, their student body is moving onto the higher grades, they have brand new positions opening, and they have a lot of them," he said.

The placement success also varies by alma mater, not just certification category.

"UConn traditionally has placed a much higher percentage of graduates in jobs than the others," said Joe Cirasuolo, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents.

Before municipal budgets took a hit, 93 percent of UConn education graduates got certified teaching positions, and last fall, 87 percent were hired.

Working The Numbers

There is a small group of newly minted teachers who have no worries secondary math and science teaching graduates.

Kevin Liner, 23, started at UConn thinking he'd become an actuary like his older brother, but decided to go for the combined undergraduate/master's education program and become a high school math teacher.

He had more than 10 interviews, and started to turn interviews down.

He has three job offers, two from magnet schools and one from a traditional high school. He only has five classmates at UConn who are also in secondary math out of 100 in the combined bachelor's/masters and they have all had interviews.

Beth Duquette, 22, from Bristol, is graduating from Quinnipiac's combined bachelor's/master's in elementary education, with a concentration in mathematics. As she recognized the state of the elementary job market, she took a course in high school teaching methods, and took the test to qualify to teach upper-grades math. She'll learn soon if she passed. But even if she gets a high school math job, eventually she wants to teach younger children.

Duquette already has a long-term sub job at Griswold Elementary School in Kensington through the end of the year the school where she is an intern. She interviewed Friday to continue in the job as a one-year replacement for the second-grade teacher, who will take a year off to spend the time with her baby.

"I'm nervous, but I'm excited," she said.

She applied for four openings in the town first, second, fourth and fifth grade. There were 1,000 applications.

"I even had a teacher who told me if she were my age, she wouldn't go into teaching because it's so competitive," Duquette said.

But she's not dissuaded. As a child, she used to pretend to teach her stuffed animals, and when she could get her parents and neighbors to play school, they had to listen to her lessons.

"I've wanted to do it forever," she said. "It's my passion."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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