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Uncertain prospects

POLK COUNTY -- By the time her daughter started kindergarten at Monmouth Elementary School in 2008, Jessie Padilla said she was ready to follow her.

Student teacher Jessie Padilla goes over vocabulary words with fifth-graders (from left) Sawyer Hartford, Hailey Brooks, Jubel Gomez, Lynze Bradley and Daniel Avila-Bucio on Thursday at Ash Creek Elementary School.

Photo by Pete Strong

Student teacher Jessie Padilla goes over vocabulary words with fifth-graders (from left) Sawyer Hartford, Hailey Brooks, Jubel Gomez, Lynze Bradley and Daniel Avila-Bucio on Thursday at Ash Creek Elementary School.

January 30, 2013

POLK COUNTY -- By the time her daughter started kindergarten at Monmouth Elementary School in 2008, Jessie Padilla said she was ready to follow her.

She had enjoyed running a day care when her kids were younger. As they aged, she began volunteering at MES.

"I found my calling through that," said Padilla, now 34 and a student-teacher at Ash Creek Elementary School. "I loved being in the school and being a part of it."

Padilla will graduate with a bachelor's degree in education from Western Oregon University in June. Once she earns her teaching license, she hopes to quickly find a position in a local school in early childhood education -- "hopes" being the key word.

"With the market the way it is ...," she said. "You see stories about layoffs, when a job opening does happen, people are flocking from California and Washington.

"There can only be no jobs for so long," she continued. "There's always going to be kids who need to be taught."

The hunt for teaching jobs usually begins in earnest for prospective teachers during the spring and runs until August. As has been the case since the recession started, it won't be an easy search.

The annual average number of teaching and school support positions in Oregon fell from 102,700 in 2009 to 94,400 in 2012.

The Oregon Employment Department projects about a 10 percent increase in elementary teacher employment levels -- or about 1,400 new jobs -- between 2010 and 2020. That prediction doesn't consider government spending levels.

"There are 15 or 20 districts I've been looking at on the coast and in the valley," said Megan Wacker, a WOU graduate student who's been student-teaching at LaCreole Middle School in Dallas. Wacker will also graduate in June.

"I'm not seeing a lot, other than for a few specialists," she said. "I think it can be easy for people to get discouraged."

Older teachers aren't retiring because of hits to their 401(k)s. School district hiring is mostly flat. The doom and gloom has given the profession a public relations problem, said Mark Girod, Western's interim college of education dean.

"The young folks who are to be our future pipeline of teachers, they see (the news) and they're not going into those majors, which is too bad," Girod said.

"I think there are a lot of high quality individuals out there who are being scared away from the teaching profession."

Western, which has been traditionally known as a teaching college, has seen the number of education-related degrees awarded annually fall from 375 in 2006-07 to 251 in 2011-12.

The school's actual teacher licensure program has fared better, with a decrease of 8 percent in the last five years.

"That's pretty good, given the overall soft market for teachers in the Willamette Valley," Girod said, adding that he believes the market is now turning for the better.

Hiring rates may creep back up to pre-recession levels in the next 10 years, according to a recent report by the National Center for Education Statistics.

New primary and secondary teacher hires will grow nationwide by a projected 28 percent between 2010 and 2021 in public schools; between 1999 and 2010, the new hires grew by 36 percent, the analysis showed.

Policies in the pipeline could help. Regional achievement centers and programs for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education are part of Governor Kitzhaber's education reform plan.

This could boost the need for specialty teachers. The state, meanwhile, will require all districts to offer full-day kindergarten by 2015.

Western is trying to boost marketability for its students. It's stressed, for example, earning an English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) endorsement that certifies them to teach children whose main language isn't English.

The number of students graduating with ESOL credentials has doubled between 2007 and 2012, Girod said.

Wacker said she'll have a unique challenge when it comes to finding a job -- she wants to teach theater arts. She's prepared for a two- or three-year search to find a full-time position.

"Arts have been cut left and right," she said. "But this has discouraged other young teachers from entering the program ... so there's less competition."

Heather Cereda, a WOU education undergraduate working at Independence Elementary School, said she hasn't second guessed her career choice. Her sister parlayed a substitute job into full-time employment the year after graduation, she said.

Cereda said she's not averse to moving -- far, if necessary. Though she's still more than a year from earning her education degree, she's been looking at jobs in Alaska.

"I just think teaching is where my heart is," she said. "Whether I get a job right away, I don't know, but I think I'll get there eventually."

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