Education majors face scarce openings and stiff competition


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Jay Herztog's advice to education majors looking for a teaching job in Western Pennsylvania goes something like this:

Find a map. Locate Pittsburgh. Take out a piece of string. Measure out the string to estimate what the distance would be for a six-hour drive, draw a circle around Pittsburgh and apply for jobs within that circle. Or maybe outside that circle.

"I understand closeness and family and all that, but our kids in Vegas, they love it," said Dr. Hertzog, dean of the College of Education at Slippery Rock University. "And the Southwest is just crying for teachers."

Getting a teaching job in this area is, shall we say, far from elementary. The odds of getting a job as an elementary school teacher in the Pittsburgh area seem to be somewhere between hitting a half-court shot and winning the lottery.

"Elementary education teachers, in this area of the country, they're a dime a dozen," said Sarah Zablotsky, spokeswoman for the Allegheny Intermediate Unit. "For one opening for an elementary education teacher, a school district can get 1,300 applications. The Pittsburgh/Allegheny County region is the second most competitive area in the country for teachers, second only to the Boston area."

The AIU runs a Web site, www.pa-educator.net, as a clearinghouse for job applicants and school districts to connect when there are job openings. About 200 school districts -- and thousands of prospective teachers -- participate in the Web site.

For the past four years of data available from the state, there were between 4,767 and 5,612 first-year teachers hired per year and between 12,687 and 21,075 certificates issued per year, though one person can earn more than one certificate.

It's a grim picture for those looking locally -- particularly for a major that consistently ranks among the top five majors in the country.

But that doesn't mean that all is lost for education majors. Pennsylvania teachers are in hot demand in other areas of the country, and there are signs that the job market is improving locally.

Even in Western Pennsylvania, there's demand for secondary math and science and special education teachers. And for students who truly distinguish themselves, there are often jobs waiting, even in elementary schools.

"There's never a shortage of jobs for the really, really best people," said Alan Lesgold, dean of the School of Education at the University of Pittsburgh.

And 19-year-old Carly McPartland -- who has wanted to be a teacher since she was 7 years old -- is trying to be one of those people.

Ms. McPartland, a Brentwood native and a sophomore at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, is doing everything extra that she can think of to make herself stand out among other applicants.

"It's very daunting, and it's a little upsetting that you might not be able to get the job you want," she said. "But if I can teach, I'll teach anywhere. I know I'll probably have to teach in a city school or move to a different part of the state or the country."

In addition to an elementary education certification, Ms. McPartland is also planning to get a math concentration and possibly a special education certificate. She also signed up for a sign language class to prepare herself for possibly working with a deaf student and distinguish herself from other applicants.

Getting multiple certifications is a common piece of advice that Dr. Hertzog gives to his students at Slippery Rock.

"You've got to make yourself marketable, and you do that by adding additional certifications," he said. "We had a young lady, she was certified in elementary, special ed, middle level math, Spanish and environmental ed. She graduated on Saturday and was hired on Monday."

Students interested in teaching high school math and science will have a much easier time finding a job, he said, but such students often get lured away by other industries. Students who earn a bachelor's degree in math and some sciences can often earn upwards of $50,000 per year in the private sector, he said, making teaching seem less attractive.

Dr. Hertzog encourages his students to treat their student teaching experiences as interviews for jobs in those districts. For that reason, Slippery Rock has set up student teaching programs in Las Vegas and Wake County, N.C., where there are ample jobs. There are currently almost 200 Slippery Rock graduates teaching in Las Vegas, said Dr. Hertzog.

Pennsylvania is known as an exporter of teachers, said Laurie Nicholson, field placement director for the College of Education and Educational Technology at IUP. She regularly gets calls from school districts in North Carolina looking to hire teachers trained at IUP, she said.

In terms of Western Pennsylvania jobs, Dr. Hertzog said he is heartened by projections of coming teacher shortages in Pennsylvania as baby boomer teachers retire.

By 2013, for example, the state expects shortage of 5,216 elementary school teachers and 4,539 middle school teachers.

"All in all, for the immediate region, it looks pretty good," said Dr. Lesgold, noting that there are already jobs opening up in the region for math, science, special education and foreign language teachers.

For nervous education majors like Ms. McPartland, any good news is welcome.

"Knowing that there is such high competition, it's very, very scary," said Ms. McPartland. "You just have to do your absolute best to put yourself out there."


Anya Sostek can be reached at asostek@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1308.


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