12/01/11 — Searching for teachers

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Searching for teachers

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on December 1, 2011 1:46 PM

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Greenwood Middle School exceptional children teacher Wendy Thomas watches student Erica Hobbs measure a pencil during a classroom lesson. Ms. Thomas, who works with 14 students in grades 5-8, says it is the largest class she has ever had. The trend is reflective of the growing teacher shortages being experienced nationwide, especially in the areas of exceptional children, math and science.

It was not so long ago that teaching positions were at a premium and college graduates sought refuge in meager jobs until a slot opened up.

These days, as Baby Boomers are retiring in droves and fewer students are entering the education field, the shortages are being felt around the country, officials say.

The most "critical shortage areas" are exceptional children teachers and math and science, said Marvin McCoy, Wayne County Public Schools' assistant superintendent for human resource services.

"The need is there, and we're constantly searching," he said this week. "We'll be having a job fair at the end of March and we're contacting the schools of education.

"Plus we have some of our very own teacher assistants who have matriculated through the system (and become teachers)."

The situation is compounded by several things, from a lack of teachers being produced to budget cuts and increased class sizes as veteran educators are nearing retirement.

"Everybody's sharing the load, as we have to have additional assistance in for the numbers," McCoy said. "We're in the search. We're searching for the math and science (teachers) based on projected mid-year retirements, across the state.

"This is a current challenge across the state in those three areas and you have 100 school districts vying for math and science and exceptional children."

There have been some rays of hope in the midst of the situation, though, he pointed out.

"We get inquiries from our recruiting field people in checking the website in Wayne County from Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York to name a few because those were the prime areas where we recruited from," McCoy said. "We have had a small amount of success."

The district has also hired international teachers, through VIF, or Visiting International Faculty, and H1-B, a designation given to those who work abroad from their home country.

VIF has been successful in strengthening the local pool of educators, particularly in the area of foreign languages.

Teachers from the both programs have been faithful, McCoy said, typically working in Wayne County as long as the visa allows.

"The commitment level is there with the VIF faculty," he said, explaining that it used to be a three-year program, but recently expanded to five years. "And then those that are on the H1-B visa can stay a total of six years, three-year increments."While at the outset, the teaching shortage appeared to be directly related to fewer students entering the education field, it's becoming more obvious that there are other factors at play, particularly when it comes to exceptional children, formerly special ed, teachers.

"I attribute that problem to the retiring of Baby Boomers," McCoy said. "Across the board in every profession, Baby Boomers are going home. (But) the central shortage is in education."

McCoy said that his office doesn't readily know the number of anticipated retirees for the coming year, except that he does expect a "high retirement rate."

"We have been successful in doing some mid-year hires," he said. "That's a plus for us."

Lateral entry teachers -- college graduates lacking teaching credentials can enter the classroom while simultaneously obtaining the necessary certification -- are another big help. In addition to education graduates, lateral entry teachers have become part of the recruitment effort, McCoy said.

Now, the only downside is in the area of leave time, teachers taking maternity leave or finding themselves on short-term disability.

"That puts an extra workload on quality teachers in that time," he said. "It takes teachers out of the classroom. There's no pool (to draw upon). Years ago it was the opposite. There was a surplus."

McCoy has been monitoring the decline, which isn't expected to change any time soon.

"Admissions in schools of education are very low compared to what we'll need across the state," he said. "We're dealing with the critical shortage but the real shortage is going to show its head in a few years, as a shortage of teachers across the board."