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Newly minted teachers face difficult job market

| Sunday, Feb. 26, 2012

During the six months that Ben Keller searched for a teaching job, he sent out hundreds of applications and got one interview.

"I was in the process of applying to other states, like Florida, because I couldn't even get an interview," said Keller, 30, of Penn Hills, who has a certification in secondary English.

Then he landed a position last month with Commonwealth Connections Academy, a cyber charter school with an office in Seven Fields.

Some teachers can spend up to two years as a substitute before they're hired full-time, experts say.

Many Pennsylvania universities offer teaching certification, so the state typically produces more teachers than are needed. And, as school districts lay off teachers or leave positions unfilled to cope with funding cuts, job prospects for teachers are grim.

Most universities encourage incoming students to get dual certification or choose a minor to make themselves more marketable.

"I'm very nervous because I'm going to be graduating right in the midst of jobs not being available," said Jennifer Lentz, 20, of Shaler, a junior at Carlow University seeking dual certification in early childhood and special education. "But I'm optimistic because I'm dual majoring."

Those who will have the easiest time finding jobs are people with certification in math, science, a foreign language or special education, said Alan Lesgold, dean of the University of Pittsburgh's School of Education.

"Those are people who aren't struggling to find jobs even now," he said.

The state Department of Labor and Industry projects about 4,700 teaching job openings per year statewide. State employment data, school enrollment projections and experts in the field indicate that the job outlook will improve in four to five years.

"The group (of students) coming in for fall 2012 will need four years to get out of school. I see that as an advantage because I can't see the downslide lasting more than six years, and we're in the second year of that downturn right now," said Darlene Marnich, education department chairwoman at Point Park University.

Western Pennsylvania school districts laid off nearly 650 teachers and didn't fill about 570 empty teaching positions last summer, according to the Pennsylvania State Education Association, the state's largest teachers union.

Pittsburgh Public Schools, which operates on a calendar year budget cycle, adopted a 2012 spending plan that eliminates 300 teaching positions.

Statewide, schools laid off nearly 1,700 teachers and did not fill 1,800 jobs in 2011-12, according to a survey of 294 of Pennsylvania's 500 districts.

"It doesn't look good for us, but it doesn't change how hard we work in our course work or in our student teaching," said Erin Colbert, 30, of Observatory Hill, a senior earning a certification in elementary and special education at Carlow University.

In Western Pennsylvania, about two-thirds of the anticipated 830 annual job openings will occur because of retirements or people leaving jobs for other reasons, according to the state Center for Workforce Information and Analysis.

The population of school-aged children in the area is expected to increase by 1 percent, to 419,700, between 2015 and 2030, according to a Pennsylvania State Data Center analysis based on 2000 Census data. State Department of Education data show enrollment increasing by about 5 percent, from 1.737 million students in 2012-13 to 1.824 million in 2016-17.

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