When Lilli Lackey started college, talk of a growing teacher shortage gave her confidence that a job would be waiting for her when she got out.
Now, six months after graduating, she considers herself lucky just to find work as a substitute.
Across the country, droves of people like Lackey are unable to find teaching jobs, in large part because the economy is forcing school systems to slash positions. The teacher shortage that many feared just a few years ago has turned into a teacher glut.
“I always thought that, if I didn’t find a job, I would be able to sub. And then once that started to be more difficult, it was really kind of devastating,” Lackey, an art teacher, said during a career fair for educators at the University of Kansas.
Since last fall, school systems, state education agencies, technical schools and colleges have shed about 125,000 jobs, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
At the same time, many teachers who had planned to retire or switch jobs are staying on because of the recession, and many people who have been laid off in other fields are trying to carve out second careers as teachers or applying to work as substitutes to make ends meet.
In Texas, the Round Rock school district had more than 5,000 applications for 322 teacher openings this year and saw its pool of subs almost double to 1,200, about 2.5 times as many as it needs even on a particularly bad day during flu season, said spokeswoman Joylynn Occhiuzzi.
“It is a tougher job market, and you get applicants that you might not normally have because of the economy,” she said.
Just a few years ago, before the recession hit, several reports had projected a big shortage of teachers across a wide range of subjects over the next several years as baby boomers retired from the classroom and the strong economy lured college graduates into fields other than education.
But the nationwide demand for teachers in 60 out of 61 subjects has declined from a year earlier, according to an annual report issued this week by the American Association for Employment in Education. Only one subject – math – was listed as having an extreme shortage of teachers. In recent years, more than a dozen subjects had extreme shortages.
“We don’t see a teacher shortage now,” said Neil Shnider, executive director of the association. “The school districts aren’t hiring.”
Just a few years ago, “we were recruiting really, really hard just to get people to take a look at us and take a look at our profession,” said Dr. John Black, deputy superintendent of the Augusta, Kansas, school district, who was at the job fair even though he was already being deluged with applications for a midyear kindergarten opening. “Now we have these great applicants wanting to teach, and we don’t have jobs to offer them.”
Substitute teaching rolls have grown so large that some districts have increased their requirements or stopped accepting applications altogether.
Already, schools like the one at the University of Kansas have been urging their education graduates to be more flexible about where they are willing to work and to receive training in areas that are still hard to fill, such as special education, said Rick Ginsberg, dean of the school of education.
Lackey took the advice and is planning to become certified to teach math. Although she is beginning to get more work as a sub, the job search remains frustrating.
“Teaching isn’t really the place to go into,” she said. “A few years ago it seemed like the place to be if you wanted a job.”