Few jobs for new teachers graduating in St. Lawrence County
Sunday, May 22, 2011 - 6:12 am

By MAUREEN PICHÉ

As many area school districts are laying off teachers, local college officials are advising education majors to be patient, persistent and creative when it comes to finding a job after graduation.

They’re also predicting the teacher hiring freeze in school districts throughout most of the county is a cyclical phenomenon, and history shows it won’t be permanent.

“There’s the short-term and the long-term outlook,” said Peter Brouwer, dean of education and professional studies at SUNY Potsdam. “The short-term, particularly for students who want to remain in this region, is not good for the next few years, but this is a cyclical business, and schools will need more teachers again.”

Most school districts in the county have had to reduce their teaching staff during this year’s budget building process in an attempt to keep the tax rate at a level acceptable to the voters. Contributing factors including state aid cuts, rising fuel prices and a big increase in what they pay in retiree benefits have forced administrators and school boards into the difficult position of cutting programs and staff.

But Brouwer said this is a bubble. Once the economy improves, the districts will have more money to operate with. And as the large baby boomer population begins retiring, jobs will open up.

“Perhaps 50 percent of the current teaching force is within 10 years of retirement,” he said. “There’s going to be a big turnover.”

In the meantime, those who want to be in the field have got to be flexible.

There are sections of New York state and parts of the country where teachers are in demand, according to Brouwer and Carol Bate, career planning director at St. Lawrence University. Big cities like Buffalo and New York need teachers. Closer to home, districts in Watertown and Indian River are hiring to provide education to Fort Drum children.

The southeast, particularly North Carolina, Virginia and Florida, is actively recruiting students from New York state.

“There are still states that have a growing school age population and an expanding need for teachers,” Brouwer said.

Grads who want to stay in the North Country should look at the broader scope of education, Bate said. A teacher in a public school classroom is only one possibility.

“They need to think broadly about a career search and how they define teaching,” she said.

While riding out the hiring freeze in public schools, grads might consider teaching at private schools or the program Teach for America.

She has also suggested they might be counselors for the same age group they’re teaching, or train to work with the adult population. Then there are also subbing, alternative after-school programs and part-time positions.

Brouwer said educational testing services always need people with teaching backgrounds.

The main thing is to build experience, and possibly get a foot in the door in potential districts.

“I do know there are teaching jobs out there, and if a student is passionate about teaching, they can find something if they’re creative and flexible,” Bate said.

And continuing your education is an option, too.

Brouwer said he’s seen a number of students stay on and get certifications in areas such as literacy to make themselves more marketable. Some get their master’s degrees.

But what he’s not seeing are older career-changers who want to go into teaching through the college’s master of science in teaching, a one-year program.

“For someone looking strategically, this is not the time to give up a career,” Brouwer said.

Surprisingly, worrisome job prospects are not deterring applicants at the undergraduate level at SUNY Potsdam. In fact, Brouwer said the numbers are up slightly.

The situation isn’t to the point where they’re discouraging applicants, he said, but they are taking steps to be more selective, especially in the oversaturated childhood education program.

“We’re in the process of raising our standards in the childhood program,” he said. “We’re not limiting students at the front door, but we’re raising the bar. This will have the effect of reducing the number of people in the program, and it will lead to teachers of higher quality.”