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Transition-to-teaching students find few jobs

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Indiana residents who opted to switch careers and become teachers in hopes of warding off job cuts from the recession are finding employment hard to come by in some school districts across the state.

An Indiana Department of Education report shows less than 40 percent of those who completed the transition-to-teaching programs in 2008-2009 were working in Indiana schools last year. Rates for those hoping to teach in elementary schools were even lower, with just 25 percent finding teaching jobs in 2009-2010, the report said.

Bruce Spitzer, secondary program director at Indiana University South Bend, said those in the teacher transition program got caught in a "perfect storm" of budget and personnel cuts in school districts across the state.

"Every school corporation is reporting either hiring freezes, cuts or hiring limited only to necessary staff members," he told the South Bend Tribune. "It is just not a good time to enter the job of teaching in northern Indiana."

The teacher transition programs, which are geared toward those who already have a bachelor's degree, have been popular with workers been laid off from other careers and college graduates facing a daunting job market. The programs typically last a year, and students have to meet a grade-point average and pass a state test to get a teaching license.

The Department of Education says 684 students completed transition-to-teaching programs statewide in 2008-09.

"Most people who come to me had been in manufacturing in general or business, and they had been laid off," said Ralph Stutzman, program director at Bethel College. "They decided this was an opportunity. They decided teaching was where they really had their passion. It is a noble profession."

Stutzman said the average age of a transition-to-teaching student at Bethel is around 40, though the program also gets recent college graduates. Those students "tend to be at a little bit of a disadvantage," he said, because they lack some life skills.

"One of the great things about transition-to-teaching is that we expect people to have had life experiences to bring to the table," he said. "That is an important piece because they have been out in the world and can speak to what is in the world."

That doesn't deter Nick Garstka, who joined the IUSB program after graduating from Trine University with a bachelor's degree in mathematics.

Garstka said he expects to find a job as a math teacher after completing his student teaching at Penn High School.

"It seems that especially in math there are many opportunities in local schools," he said.

Business education and the foreign languages also tend to be in high demand, Stutzman said, but jobs in the social sciences are typically the most difficult to find. Some students have had to leave the state to find jobs, he noted.

Jennifer McGhee hopes to find something closer to home

McGhee worked in business for 20 years but decided on a career change after her family moved to South Bend. She's enrolled in Bethel's transition-to-teaching program and hopes to be licensed in business education.

She acknowledged being nervous when she first started the program because the job market for teachers looked grim.

"I started hearing about teachers getting laid off," she said. "I had thought teaching jobs would always be around, and I wondered if I should be worried. But this is something I wanted to do."

McGhee, a student teacher at Washington High School, said she hopes to get a job at Washington when she completes her program.

Stutzman urges students to be realistic about their expectations in the current job market and to be willing to take jobs as permanent substitutes or even paraprofessionals to get a foot in the door.

"That first job is going to come out of that place you least expect it," he said. "It is probably going to be a late hire, probably going to be after school has started, and may not even happen the first year you are looking."

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