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Competing in a Competitive Job Market

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A special education job candidate came up to me at a job fair not long ago and said with a huge smile, “I didn’t think that anyone besides my mother could love me this much!” At the same job fair, I encouraged job candidates in social studies, elementary education, and health and physical education to not take the disinterest of school district representatives personally. Of course, these candidates had been warned when they declared their major that their job search would be extremely competitive; now they were experiencing the challenge of finding a job in an area of teacher surpluses.

Each year AAEE (American Association for Employment in Education) publishes the results of a nationwide survey gauging the demand of teachers by certification and geographic area. For years, a number of areas have experienced a surplus of teachers while others have a shortage of teachers.

As you choose your certification area(s), you need to balance the passion you have to teach a particular area with the reality of the competition you’ll face to find a job. If you are experiencing sharp competition (or expect to) for a full-time teaching job, you do have some options to make yourself more marketable.

According to school administrators, the best way to increase your chances for full-time employment is to earn additional certifications. In general, there are more opportunities for those in foreign language, math, science, special education, and ESL (or ELL). Surpluses of teachers are usually found in elementary education, HPE, social studies, and art. Other fields may be more balanced between supply and demand. For elementary candidates, an excellent dual certification is special education. Middle school math will increase the chances of employment for those with social studies certification. Some states, such as Pennsylvania, make it relatively easy to earn a second certification in many areas by passing the appropriate Praxis II test; other states require additional coursework. However, never get certified in an area where you do not want to teach.

Your other options include being willing to substitute teach and being willing to move. Some urban and rural districts need teachers in all areas. If you choose to substitute teach (even districts with a surplus of candidates for full-time positions often experience a shortage of qualified substitutes), remember that each day of subbing is, as an administrator recently told me, a job interview. Either you are showing the administrators, teachers, and students in that school that you are an outstanding teacher or just an average one. Average teachers may be good enough to sub, but there will be better choices when a full-time position is posted.

There is no guarantee that subbing will lead to a full-time position, but it will give you the opportunity to network with and to show school personnel that you have what it takes to be an outstanding professional. Serving as a para-professional may provide the same opportunity.

Your least effective course of action when competing in an area where there is a surplus of teachers is to take a job outside of education. Sure, this job may pay more than daily subbing and it will probably be less stressful, but it is removing you from the field of education, and there will be plenty of candidates to take your place in the employment process line.

John F. Snyder
Co-Director of Career Services
Slippery Rock University of PA

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