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The few, the proud, the teachers

POSTED August 12, 2011 9:26 p.m.

Can you hear it? The sounds of brand new pencils being sharpened mean that school is about to be back in session.

The back-to-school energy created around this time of year is palpable in the air as children prepare to meet new classmates, parents take a sigh of relief that summer vacation is finally over and teachers gear up for another year of organized chaos.

During this excitement, I can’t help but think about my career choice.

It’s a miracle that I am in the media field rather than education. You see, I have many teachers in my family. Growing up in an environment of learning is probably why I love to read, debate and have perfect penmanship — thanks to my grandmother who was a fourth grade teacher.

When I enrolled in college, many of my family members urged me to get a teaching credential. “You can always fall back on teaching,” they would say. But in today’s budget-weary world, landing a teaching job is almost as hard as getting a spot on “American Idol.”

According to CNNMoney, the state and local government sector has lost 577,000 jobs since its peak in September 2008. Some 224,000 of those have been in education. No longer does a teaching credential equal a guaranteed job with benefits and security.

While local school districts have been able to avoid teacher layoffs with salary and benefit reductions, the competition for open teaching positions is stiff. I have spoken with newly credentialed teachers who have put in applications at every school district in a 100-mile radius in hopes of landing an interview.

A few told me that their secret to securing that elusive permanent job is to become the best substitute teacher the district has ever seen. I have heard tales of chatting up principals and bringing home-baked goodies to staff break rooms as a means to getting an “in” with a school district.

My cousin is taking a different approach; she decided to get an art credential. In most school districts arts and music funding has been drastically cut over the past few years, but that also has discouraged educators in attaining art credentials. She is hoping to fill a specific niche in the education field.

Whether it’s with personal connections or with specialized training, those seeking teaching positions in today’s job market are faced with competition never before seen in the education field.

However, there will always be a need for qualified teachers. In fact, the California Teachers Association is anticipating a teacher shortage.

A 2009 report on the status of the teaching profession revealed that nearly 100,000 veteran teachers are older than 50 and many are eligible for retirement. The report also found the number of new teachers in their first or second year has dropped by nearly one quarter in the past couple of years, the number of new credentials being issued is down substantially and the number of prospective teachers in universities also is significantly down.

So it appears that becoming a teacher is still a viable career option — you just have to find the right opening at the right time.

The Turlock Unified School District is welcoming 32 new teachers this year. The Journal asked each of these new TUSD employees why they decided to become a teacher. The majority of responses included things like it’s “my way of making a difference in children’s lives,” or “to help them reach their full potential.” (To see all of the responses and more information about TUSD’s new teachers, see the Aug. 13 issue of the Journal.)

Not one of the teachers said they were in it for the money, which is why I believe there will always be people willing to become educators despite a temporary tough job market. And while I will not be one of them, I will continue to support their efforts at molding the next generation of leaders.

To contact Kristina Hacker, e-mail khacker@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2004.

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