Education students find open job market

Districts expecting wave of retirements are eager to hire

April 30, 1999|By Erika D. Peterman | Erika D. Peterman,SUN STAFF

Confident and no-nonsense, 23-year-old Shaun Flowers already has the stuff effective teachers are made of. Just a few weeks shy of an education degree from Morgan State University, she has wrested the full attention of some errant sixth-graders at the Rockville school where she student teaches.

"This is serious stuff," Flowers says to the rueful group in a commanding voice. "If you don't have your book, you can't do your assignment. If you don't do your assignment, then what? You fail?"

Recruiters from Virginia, Pennsylvania and Maryland liked what they saw when Flowers made the rounds at a job fair for teachers earlier this month. But she's off the market: An open contract from Montgomery County's highly ranked school system arrived in the mail recently, and Flowers has interviews lined up with several schools.

As Maryland's school systems compete with one another for the services of increasingly scarce teachers, soon-to-graduate education majors such as Flowers are highly sought after. Those who want to teach in high-demand areas such as reading, math, science or special education -- and Flowers hopes to teach science or reading -- have their pick of jobs although they are in the midst of student teaching.

Some are working as full-time teachers, though they won't don a cap and gown for weeks.

Mary Reed, who graduates from Towson University next month, started teaching math at North Carroll High School in Hampstead this month.

"I know they need math teachers in Carroll," said Reed, a second-careerist at 36. "I was surprised they snapped me up so quick."

Flowers' best friend, District of Columbia native Mickie Ward, 27, has been offered a teaching post in Baltimore, and is being courted by the district school system. Like Flowers, she graduates from Morgan State next month after student teaching, and is weighing her options.

Ethan Jennings, 22, has had encouraging talks with administrators about teaching science in Harford County -- his first choice -- after he graduates from Towson University next month.

"I've got the attitude, `I'll get a job,' " Jennings said, taking a break after teaching an Earth Science class at Harford Technical High School in Bel Air. "It's just a matter of where and the situation."

The odds are strongly in his favor.

School districts nationwide are bracing for the retirement of a wave of baby boomer-aged teachers, and the public school population is growing while the pool of teachers has stagnated.

To get a jump on the competition, many school systems are offering open contracts now rather than waiting until summer. School districts across the Baltimore region are offering a number of incentives, ranging from cash bonuses to salary enhancements to interest-free loans to lure new hires.

"They tried to grab you up -- `Oh, we need to talk to you!' " said Los Angeles native Flowers of the job fair recruiters. "I knew I was marketable, but not to the extent that [I am] now."

Their budding careers have taken them in different directions, but Flowers, Reed, Ward and Jennings share similar philosophies about teaching. All speak idealistically about wanting to help children -- of wanting to do for others what their best teachers did for them.

With his youthful appearance and preppy attire, Jennings could easily pass for the senior class president as he hands out work sheets in a class full of ninth-graders. A few years ago, he was an unfocused kid who "was lucky to get out of high school."

"I think I have a very good understanding of the things that are going on in kids' lives because I've been through some of them," said Jennings, a Harford native who graduated from Bel Air High School.

"I had some teachers [who] as soon as they found out I was in their class, they knew exactly who I was. The ones that made me appreciate the opportunities I had were the ones who put all that aside."

With his interest in science, Jennings could have gone into the much more lucrative medical field or private industry. "If I was in it for the money," he said, "I'd be doing something else."

In today's booming economy, many college students who would have once gravitated toward teaching are choosing fields that pay more, educators say. School systems -- and education majors for that matter -- are acutely aware that salary plays a role in the supply-demand gap for qualified teachers.

When Flowers and Ward are asked why school systems are having such a difficult time finding teachers, they answer simultaneously: "Money."

But as with Jennings, neither Flowers nor Ward is particularly interested in translating their college degrees into fat salaries.

"You have to want to make a change and a difference" to be a good teacher, Ward said. "I want to work with those who are written off as unable to learn."

Said Flowers: "You have to have a genuine, big heart to be in this profession. If you just love kids, any subject, you'll be able to flow with it."

Oddly enough, it was the lure of money that propelled Reed into full-time secretarial work instead of college after she graduated from high school in 1981. After staying home with her two children for a few years, the longtime Carroll County resident decided she "wanted to do more."

A teacher at Carroll County Community College encouraged Reed to become a math teacher. She considers the subject a challenge.

"Sometimes the things you fear most, you work harder at it," she said. "I guess because I'm right out of college and kids have anxiety about a test, you can empathize with them. I guess I want to help students realize they can succeed, even though it's difficult."

Although the faculty at Towson told the education majors that the job market was healthy, Reed acknowledges being "tickled" that the Carroll County school system took such a keen interest in her so soon.

"I still feel like I'm the new kid on the block," Reed said. "There's still a lot for me to learn."

Pub Date: 4/30/99

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