Future teachers face uncertain job market

RICHMOND (WWBT) - The tight economy is putting the pressure on professions once considered safe and stable. At the top of the list? Teaching.

Blame dwindling tax receipts which have lead to sharp budget cuts in school districts across the Commonwealth. Young graduates who were once courted for positions in teaching, are now forced to compete for every job.

Kellie Lewis is one of them. For as long as she can remember she has wanted to do only one thing.

"I've always wanted to make a difference," Kellie said.

And the best place she thought she could make that difference is at the front of a classroom. Kellie graduates from VCU in December, and when she does she has been told to prepare for the worst.

"There is a possibility that you won't have a job when you graduate," she said.

Dr. Leila Christenbury, the interim chair of Teaching and Learning at VCU agrees.

"The current market is a tight market and we acknowledge that," said Christenbury.

According to Christenbury, the cuts to school district budgets are having a direct impact on the next generation of educators.

"School district budgets are about as lean as they have ever been," she said.

During better times, schools would come looking for teachers, or maybe graduates would have to compete against one or two other applicants. Now young teachers are now facing very few open positions and the ones that do exist could have hundreds of people competing for the same gig.

"I know that we will all be applying at the same time for the same jobs that are open," said Lewis.

So that means graduates need to be creative and look for openings that might be outside of their comfort zone.

The latest "critical shortage report" by the Virginia Department of Education identifies special education, elementary education and middle school as the areas with the most need. Within those grade areas, certain subjects are more in demand than others.

"Shortage areas where most people can get a job easily and no one would be surprised by this are mathematics and also the sciences," said Christenbury

It might also mean moving to more rural communities or the inner city, where jobs are more difficult to fill.

And for ambitious teachers with a passion for the profession like Kellie Lewis, it means doing whatever it takes to show that they are the best person for the job.

"Now we've been encouraged to do portfolios, we've been encouraged to write letters to future principals and school districts," she said.

Whatever it takes. For a job that Dr. Christenbury believes will be worth the effort. "It is such an opportunity to make a difference in young people's lives."

This isn't a trend that is expected to last forever, but it is difficult to determine when it will improve. According to Christenbury, things this year are worse than they were last year.

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