May 05, 2006

Elementary teachers face 'buyer's market' in Illinois

by Pete Rosenbery

 CARBONDALE, Ill. -- The job market for elementary education graduates this spring could be as difficult in some parts of Illinois as last year, prompting some teachers to look out of state for jobs.

Complexities of state and federal funding are concerns in many school districts, particularly those in Southern Illinois, along with shifts in enrollment. Those factors mean many districts must wait until the summer or close to the start of school before making decisions on personnel, according to Lynn C. Smith, interim chair of Southern Illinois University Carbondale's Department of Curriculum and Instruction.

"I think around here it helps to have a passion for teaching and have that be visible to somebody who is interviewing because it's a buyer's market," she said. "You need to put forth the very best you have to offer."

The equation for new teachers is more complex than just replacing a retiring teacher, Smith said. Available funding and class sizes also come into play.

"If it were based on teacher retirements there would be plenty of jobs available," she said.

Carrie L. Buehler of Carlyle and Drew J. Ibendahl of Nashville will be among the students graduating at College of Education and Human Services commencement ceremonies May 13 at the SIU Arena.

Ibendahl will be a first-grade teacher at Mount Vernon's District 80 primary center next fall; Buehler, meanwhile, continues searching but she remains confident of getting a job. She was one of six candidates interviewed – and the only current college student – for a position about one-and-a-half hours away. The principal conducting the search was "very positive," she said.

The strong reputation of SIUC's program keeps Buehler, who like Ibendahl participated in a yearlong teaching internship program, optimistic. She has sent out about 30 resumes.

"I am so appreciative of the program," she said. "The school does a really good job and I feel confident because of the instruction we receive."

The fields in high demand are special education, early childhood and pre-kindergarten programs, Smith said. People with elementary education degrees are looking to add early childhood certificates or additional endorsements, or focuses beyond their major, to enhance their marketability.

Ibendahl spent the year as a seventh-grade teacher in Murphysboro and sent out about two dozen resumes. He was "in the right place at the right time" to secure the job in Mount Vernon, he said. He previously spent two semesters of classroom observation there and also worked at the middle school. He is excited about teaching first-grade students.

Ibendahl and Buehler, who is a fourth-grade student teacher at Unity Point Grade School south of Carbondale, agree the internship program is valuable in learning to collaborate with a team of experienced classroom teachers.

In addition to the internship program, SIUC also offers a Teaching Fellows Graduate Program, which places certified graduate students from a variety of teaching programs with mentoring public school teachers in the classroom four days a week for a school year. The program received a Distinguished Program in Teacher Education award from the Association of Teacher Educators in February 2005.

While she would like to stay near her home, Buehler is considering working as a substitute or taking a teaching job outside of Illinois, if necessary.

"If you are a good substitute you will be in demand and can work almost every day," Smith said.

Also competing for SIUC graduates are the out-of-state school districts, where incentive packages are prevalent, said curriculum and instruction professor D. John McIntyre. Several districts from states including Kentucky, Tennessee and Missouri participated in a recruiting fair in April. Clark County, Nev., where Las Vegas is located, is one of the fastest growing school districts and provides incentives that can include a subsidized apartment and paid moving expenses – financial resources that districts in Southern Illinois don't have, McIntyre said.

He anticipates there will be more teaching slots open in more urban areas in the state, such as Chicago and Rockford.

Illinois has been known for quite a while as an exporting state – more students who become certified teachers in Illinois this year will move out of state than remain because of the better benefits being offered, he said.

"We are not too far off from having a crisis," he said. "At some point, you can't keep cutting more personnel. As class sizes get so large you are going to have to hire extra people.

"We will begin to lose our better teachers – especially the younger ones coming out – to other states because they are going to be able to out-compete Illinois. It is already starting to happen," he said.

Providing a high-quality undergraduate education is among the goals of Southern at 150: Building Excellence Through Commitment, the blueprint the University is following as it approaches its 150th anniversary in 2019.