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an interesting article from the NY Times


Ken Bernstein

February 11, 2002

More Applicants Answer the Call for Teaching Jobs


he sinking economy and a wave of
soul-searching after the Sept. 11 attacks have
swelled the number of people seeking jobs as
teachers, school officials around the country say.

The officials say they hope the trend will ease a
teacher shortage that is expected to worsen over the
decade as school enrollments grow and more teachers
retire. In particular, it may stem the perennial
shortage of
qualified math and science teachers, since many
applicants are from the technology and financial
industries and have expertise in those subjects.

Altogether, the nation's public schools expect to
about 2.4 million new teachers by 2012, almost as
as the 2.8 million now working.

The most striking increase is in applications to
that recruit people from other careers, provide
training and send the new teachers into short-staffed

schools, typically in poor urban neighborhoods. Many
of these alternate-route programs pay for the
recruits to
get master's degrees in education, an especially
benefit in a recession.

One such program, in Washington, D.C., has received
45 percent more applications than it had this time
year. Another, serving Kansas City, Kan., and Kansas
City, Mo., has had a 40 percent increase. More than
5,000 people from other careers have applied to teach
New York City starting in September, compared with
1,250 at this time last year.

Many applicants in these cities and others explain
their new interest in teaching by pointing to the
uncertainty caused by the recession and the terrorist

"We are noticing a pretty significant number of
people who are mentioning in their cover letter
how the whole Sept. 11 thing really impacted their
decision to apply," said Michelle Rhee,
president of the New Teacher Project, a nonprofit
consulting group that helps school districts
recruit and train teachers.

There are other reasons, of course, for the
heightened interest in teaching. As thousands of
teachers from the baby boom generation prepare to
retire, urban school districts in particular have
stepped up recruitment, starting earlier in the year
and broadening their search to include
populations ? like professionals disenchanted with
corporate jobs ? that they used to write off.
The New York City school system is running
advertisements in subway cars and newspapers that
read: "No one goes back 10 years later to thank a
middle manager" and "Your spreadsheets won't
ever grow up to be doctors and lawyers."

In Chicago, school officials are hoping to lure new
teachers with an advertising campaign that
depicts teaching as a recession-proof career. They
are also playing up job security in presentations
to college students.

"The idea is that the economy may be down," said
Carlos Ponce, chief of human resources for
the Chicago schools, "but there is still a high
demand for teachers."

The increased interest is also reflected in
applications to graduate programs in teacher education
and to Teach for America, which places recent college
graduates in troubled urban schools after a
summer of training.

At Columbia University Teachers College, the nation's
largest graduate school of education, new
enrollment for the spring semester was up 23 percent
over last year. Christine Persico, executive
director for enrollment services, said the applicants
included more people than usual with
advanced degrees, including Wall Street executives
who wanted to be principals or

"Some are saying they lost their job or anticipate
losing their job," Ms. Persico said. "They might
have had a penchant for a service-oriented job like
teaching before but had a career opportunity in
the business world or elsewhere that they felt they
couldn't pass up."

Teach for America has had the sharpest year-to-year
increase in applicants in its 12-year history.
It received 3,300 applications by its first deadline,
Oct. 31, compared with 1,100 the previous
year. The organization has received a total of 8,704
requests for applications for September 2002,
compared with 4,343 last year. In a poll of 200
people applying to the program in recent months,
more than half said they had changed their career
plans as a result of Sept. 11.

"This is not typical for us at all," said Melissa
Golden, a spokeswoman for Teach for America.
But she said that the increase might not be directly
related to the recession, because in the past,
applications actually decreased when the economy was

In regions that have been hard hit by layoffs, school
districts are also seeing more teachers
returning after an extended absence. Houston and
Raleigh, N.C., for example, have received
inquiries from people who had left teaching to raise
families or take better-paying jobs and now
need steady paychecks because they or their spouses
are out of work. This group includes several
former employees of the Enron Corporation in Houston,
said Beatrice Garza, who is in charge of
hiring for the school district.

Meanwhile, fewer experienced teachers are quitting to
pursue other careers, since the job market
is so much tighter.

"People are staying put," said Stella Shelton, a
spokeswoman for the Raleigh school system,
where there is markedly less teacher turnover this
year. "The reality is that many teachers are
married to people who have been laid off or are
worried they won't find a new job if they move."

Raleigh, like Seattle and San Jose, Calif., is
receiving more applications than usual from people
who want to teach math and science after losing jobs
in the technical sector. San Jose appears to
have reaped the most benefits this year, hiring
dozens of people who were laid off from Silicon
Valley computer companies.

As an alternative, many of these people are applying
to be substitute teachers. In Raleigh, the
number of substitutes has grown to more than 1,000,
compared with 550 last year. In Chicago,
7,000 people, including many from the airline
industry, have signed up to be substitutes this
year, up from 5,000 last year.

Roger Regan, 39, signed up last week as a substitute
high school teacher in Raleigh after the
start-up company he worked for went bankrupt. Mr.
Regan, who is working toward a doctorate
in public policy, said he settled on substitute
teaching ? for which he will earn $66 a day ? only
after failing to find part-time work in Research
Triangle Park.

"Unless people get in there and find out they love
it," Mr. Regan said, "I think most are doing
this just to have a steady income."

Some education officials fear that too many of the
new teachers are like Mr. Regan, people who
are pursuing teaching only as a temporary measure and
will most likely seek better- paying jobs
once the economy improves. Some question whether it
is worth hiring them ? and in the case of
many districts with alternate- route programs, paying
more than $10,000 per teacher for their
graduate studies ? if they will only jump ship.

"It's very hard to hold onto people who come in
mainly out of altruism or the sense that there is
nothing else out there for them at the moment," said
the union leader Sandra Feldman, president
of the American Federation of Teachers.

But Vicki Bernstein, who recruits people from other
careers to teach in New York City, pointed
out that in other periods of national turmoil,
including the Great Depression and the Vietnam War,
people were drawn into teaching and stuck with it for
the rest of their working lives.

"Teaching can be a big beneficiary of this, just like
it was after other major social and economic
changes," Ms. Bernstein said. "It's a historic moment
and a chance for us to bring in talented
people who would not otherwise have chosen this

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