Job seekers might look at alternative schools for work, a career specialist says.
By MARY ELLEN PELLEGRINI
Close-knit families, friends and love of the area -- recent education graduates most commonly cited these factors for plunging into a local job market where hundreds of teaching positions have been lost in the last few years.
Rob Thompson of Vienna, a December 2003 graduate of Westminster College in New Wilmington, Pa., with a degree in secondary social studies, expected the large number of veteran teachers locally would ensure openings in the teaching field when he graduated.
With layoffs, attrition, rehiring retirees and more teachers opting to remain for 35 years rather than 30, the landscape isn't quite what he and others envisioned.
"It's very discouraging waiting for an opening," said Thompson, a substitute teacher since graduation.
In Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties, about 400 teaching positions have been eliminated in the last two years, according to a survey by the Ohio Education Association.
During the 2004-05 academic year, 342 education majors graduated from Youngstown State University while Westminster College awarded teaching degrees to 75 candidates.
Despite the job eliminations, Joanne Gallagher, career services coordinator at YSU said, "We want to remain optimistic. We don't want to paint a bleak picture of the area."
Keeping options open
Gallagher recommends that graduates look at all options such as alternative schools, private schools, a longer commute and consider some places that are off the beaten path, some rural areas.
Special education, high school science and math teachers are in demand locally while the early childhood field has more graduates than positions. Christine Vesely, formerly of Girard and a 2002 graduate of YSU, found a position as a private school kindergarten teacher that August after a summer of "sending more applications than [she could] count, wondering and worrying."
When her position was eliminated in June 2005 because of declining enrollment, Vesely searched the local market, found little, then turned her sights to the Atlanta area. She underwent six interviews before accepting a job teaching kindergarten.
Out-of-state help wanted
Jackie Meade, director of the career center at Westminster College, noted jobs are plentiful in Virginia, Texas, the Carolinas and Florida if you're willing to relocate.
This year 1,200 teachers were hired in the Georgia county where Vesely applied. Although she wouldn't consider relocation three years ago, this time around "I knew I wasn't going to find anything in the [Mahoning Valley] area," Vesely said.
For those interested in moving, YSU is part of a consortium of 12 Northeast Ohio colleges and universities that sponsors an annual Northeast Ohio Teacher Education Day job fair. This year's NOTED event held at the I-X Center in Cleveland attracted more than 100 employers from other states, and southern and western Ohio.
Rather than pick up stakes, Thompson would consider expanding his part-time Internet business into full-time ownership.
At the same time, he plans to stay connected to his first love, teaching, by substituting, coaching high school baseball, checking the Ohio Department of Education and school Web sites for openings and listening for word-of-mouth information.
Mike Andjelkovich, who received his bachelor's degree in integrated business education from YSU in May, also prefers to remain local.
"The r & eacute;sum & eacute;s are out and I'm waiting," said Andjelkovich, who's been searching within a one-hour radius of Youngstown. Beyond his interest in business, Andjelkovich chose that field because it offers a wide range of employment opportunities.
He can teach various computer and business classes from fourth grade to adult. Still he believes luck plays a role in securing employment in an area saturated with candidates. "You have to be in the right place at the right time," he said.
"Even if graduates don't have a classroom, they can stay viable," Meade said.
She suggests tutoring, Head Start, ESL programs or business jobs related to your field as alternate ways to utilize your degree.
"If you can keep your hand in your field and wait out the tight periods, jobs will open up," Meade said.