Schools boost teacher hiring Recruiters eagerly search job fairs to fill anticipated shortage

Many educators retiring

Low-interest loans, housing grants, early hiring among perks

July 27, 1998|By Kris Antonelli | Kris Antonelli,SUN STAFF

As baby boomers reach retirement age, school districts in the Baltimore area are bracing for a looming teacher shortage and pumping up their recruitment efforts to fill the expected gaps.

Instead of going to local college campuses looking for a few dozen newly minted teachers, recruiters are visiting job fairs and recruiting consortiums armed with perks such as low-interest loans to help cover moving expenses, housing grants and early contracts for teachers who don't want to wait until the summer for a firm job offer.

Oscar Davis was one of a half-dozen Anne Arundel County teacher recruiters who nervously scanned his competition at the Pittsburgh Area Recruiting Consortium at that city's convention center in the spring. Young teachers milled around booths, and eager recruiters chatted them up about the joys of working for their school systems.

"It was like a meat market," Davis said of the annual hiring event.

Teachers were plentiful in the late 1960s and early 1970s, but many of them have been in the classroom for 20 years and are getting ready to leave. The problem will be especially acute in jurisdictions where galloping development has led to sharp increases in student enrollment.

'Double whammy'

"This is a demographic double whammy of aging teachers and increasing student enrollment," said David Haselkorn, president of the nonprofit Recruiting New Teachers organization in Belmont, Maine.

In Anne Arundel County, recruiters expect they'll need to hire 3,256 teachers over the next four years -- more than half their work force. Neighboring Prince George's County has tripled the number of its new hires in the past few years. Last year, 1,500 teachers were hired, and recruiters say the numbers needed will increase more during the next four years. In Baltimore, the state's largest school district, teacher hires shot up to 1,200 last year, its highest rate ever.

The picture isn't any different nationally. California educators predict they will have to hire about 300,000 teachers over the next 10 years to keep pace with retirements, resignations and swelling student enrollment. It is not unheard of for fast-growing areas such as San Antonio, and the suburbs surrounding Las Vegas, to hire hundreds of teachers a day at East Coast job fairs.

Reducing classroom size

Further fueling the need for new teachers is a push to reduce classroom size in the elementary grades. Special education, math, science, computer science and foreign language teachers are in the highest demand, experts say, because college students with those specialized skills often look for jobs anywhere but in schools.

"Young people are thinking twice before going into teaching," said Bob Gaskins, director of recruiting in Prince George's County. "And private industry realizes that those who have a teacher education are well-rounded, and they are willing to offer them salaries that we can't even think of."

Urban school systems like Baltimore's have to contend with a high attrition rate, sometimes as much as 30 percent to 40 percent a year, because new teachers are not prepared to handle the students -- those from poor families, not speaking English or unable to read.

"After a hard year or two in an urban classroom, some teachers leave teaching altogether or flee to the suburbs," Haselkorn said.

Broadening their outlook

Recruiters for Baltimore schools, who once confined their searches to mid-Atlantic states, have broadened their outlook, said O. Albrie Love, director of personnel.

"In the old days, it was rare to recruit someone from Hawaii or Alaska, but now you have to do it," he said. "We go to Michigan, Massachusetts, New York and Iowa."

In Baltimore, new teachers can get a $1,200 loan from a local bank even before the first day of school. And last year, school officials offered a $5,000 housing grant to encourage teachers to live in the city. The loan is forgiven at 10 percent for every year a teacher lives in the city.

"We would get teachers to move into the city and preferably to the area where the school they teach at is located," Love said. "It is a good marketing tool."

Another lure is a mentoring program that pairs new and experienced teachers so that young teachers will have someone to turn to for advice during their first year.

But the best recruiting tool is to offer college graduates a job on the spot when they graduate in May -- before school districts know what their budgets are going to be for the following year.

"I find it really hard to understand how large school systems can recruit without offering early contracts," said Elizabeth Arons, head of recruiting in Montgomery County. "Without it, they are not competitive."

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