WASHINGTON – April is “the hot month” for school recruiters, who are scrambling to fill about 11,000 expected teaching vacancies in Maryland for the next school year.
Unlike just a few years ago, however, when universities held job fairs to lure employers, “students are really in the driver seat these days” when there are many more teaching positions open than there are prospective teachers to fill them.
“Students can go just about anywhere,” said Bryan Kempton, the Career Center’s program director at the University of Maryland.
Although the search for teachers goes on “every single day, of every month, all year-round,” this is the time of year when recruiting heats up and recruiters are looking for innovative ways to “sell” their school districts.
Anne Arundel County Schools did that last year, paying $11,000 a year for a billboard on Route 50 that reads “Be a hero. Teach with us!” The billboard caught the attention of about 300 applicants between Memorial Day and Labor Day, though officials cannot say for sure how many of those applicants ended up teaching in the county.
That sort of competition let student-teacher Kristen Welsh, 22, come right out and ask one county recruiter at a job fair, “What makes your county so different than any other county?” Welsh said she is not worried about finding a teaching job.
One prospective special-education teacher did not even have to attend a job fair, since her area of concentration is in such demand that recruiters contacted her directly to fill their openings.
“I pretty much hand-picked the school I wanted to work in,” said Leah Simon, 26, who has signed a contract with a middle school in Frederick.
School recruiters cannot be nearly as selective.
“The competition is extraordinarily stiff,” said Judith Miller, the associate superintendent of human resources for Prince George’s County Public Schools.
Prince George’s County recruiters “don’t leave too many stones unturned” in their drive to fill teacher vacancies, which could range from 1,200 to 1,800 jobs this fall. They travel up and down the Eastern Seaboard and all the way out to the Northwest looking for teachers.
The county is also thinking about a billboard like Anne Arundel’s, which it could not do this year because of “limited funds.”
“I think we have to be as creative as possible and think outside the box” in attracting teachers, Miller said.
Baltimore City school officials have already compiled a list of about 600 substitute teachers, in the event that they cannot fill the city’s 900 teacher vacancies by September. The city began classes last September with 37 teaching vacancies.
“I’m hoping to start with no vacancies . . . but that would be a stretch,” said Ted Thornton, the city school system’s director of human resources. “The system is under extreme pressure because the competition is fierce and the supply is limited.”
Montgomery County officials expect to hire about 1,400 teachers by the fall. But while things are “looking bleak” for Baltimore City, things are “going great” in Montgomery County, officials there said.
“I am very, very confident we will fill all the openings – we did this year and I think we will for next year as well,” said Elizabeth Arons, the associate superintendent of human resources for Montgomery County Public Schools.
The fact that Montgomery County offers a starting salary of $35,086 and a yearly increase of 5 percent, “keeps people on board,” said Arons.
While money is important, however, the amount of support a school district is willing to offer a new teacher is also important, said Natalie Victor, a senior education major at the University of Maryland, College Park.
“I’m not in it for the money,” said Victor, who recently signed a one-year contract to teach in Prince George’s County for a starting salary of $33,548.
But money is important to the recruiters. Keeping people on board is problematic for Baltimore City, where 140 teachers left to teach in Baltimore County and about 300 left for Howard County the previous school year, said Thornton.
“It’s an ongoing battle,” he said. “If I was paying $6,000 more, I would be able to stay competitive.”