GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — The empty tables told the story.
Of the 28 school districts registered to participate in the teacher job fair Tuesday at Richard Stockton College, only 20 sent representatives to interview prospective teachers.
In a time of widespread teacher layoffs, it is not a great year to be a new teacher.
Faced with budget cuts and a public reluctance to raise property taxes, school districts across the state are reducing, not adding, staff for next year. That could put teachers with one or two years of experience in the same job market as those just graduating from college this May.
“It’s terrible,” said Noel Kendall, of East Brunswick, Middlesex County, who will graduate from Stockton in May and wants to teach middle school English.
“They say they’re not hiring now but will take our resumes,” said Brielle Giambri, of Somerdale, Camden County, who like many of the prospective teachers came prepared with a notebook full of lesson plans, recommendation letters and resumes.
The news is not all bad. A few districts are hiring, and even in those that are not, school officials said a lot can happen between now and the start of school in September.
“We are telling them that where we stand today is not necessarily where we will be a few months from now,” said Henry Kobik, supervisor of social studies and world languages at Absegami High School in Galloway Township. His district, Greater Egg Harbor Regional, is opening a new high school in Egg Harbor City in September and still has to work out final staffing. But right now, the district is planning layoffs.
“At some point we will need new people, we just don’t know when,” Kobik said. “We’re telling them to substitute, get extra certifications, do things that will help them be more marketable.”
Patrick Givens, a graduate admissions counselor at Georgian Court College, came to offer opportunities to get certified in areas such as special education, bilingual education and English as a Second Language, or ESL.
“We’ve seen working teachers adding extra certifications to protect their jobs,” he said. “It’s a way to make yourself more valuable to an employer.”
Albert Monillas, superintendent of the Camden County Technical Schools District, said they are adding programs and he needs 10 teachers in academic areas. He invited two candidates for physics and biology teaching positions to a second interview with his principal Thursday.
One of the candidates, Jonathan Pennetti, of Manahawkin, is certified to teach physics, a generally in-demand specialty. He started the day a little depressed by so many districts saying they were not hiring, but ended it with a call to his mother, a teacher in Belleville, Essex County, to tell her about the job prospect. He even agreed to wear a tie every day, as he did for the job fair.
“It was a good day,” he said. “I’m excited to go see the school, check it out.”
Monillas said it is going to be a tougher job market for new teachers, because some experienced teachers who are losing jobs are willing to come in at the entry-level pay grade just to get a new job.
Brian S. Welfield, 48, of Egg Harbor Township, has been working as a long-term substitute at Egg Harbor Township High School. He got into teaching after being downsized from the casino industry and is now facing a second downsizing. He did his student teaching at EHTHS, which led to the long-term sub position as a political science/history teacher this year. But that ends in June, and with layoffs planned at EHT, he’s looking for a new job.
“I have a mortgage and three kids, one graduating from high school this year,” he said. “I’m trying to stay upbeat.”
Walter L. Tarver III, director of Stockton’s career center, said even if jobs are scarce, the fair was an opportunity for students to practice job interviews and ask for advice on their resumes.
“They had professional interactions,” he said, “and they got advice from people in the field.”
Tarver said he encourages students to get substitute certificates as a way to get their foot in the door at different schools, something many district representatives also suggested.
The Galloway Community Charter School doesn’t have any teacher openings but desperately needs substitutes, school Assistant Director Jessica Fisher said.
“We’re taking resumes, getting our name out there and telling them to check our Web site,” she said.
Special services schools, which work with disabled students, were also hiring, which led a lot of the students to consider getting a second certification in special education, something Tarver also recommends.
The Bancroft Schools in Cherry Hill and Haddonfield in Camden County are looking for short-term summer employees who might have the chance to get permanent jobs in the fall. Applicants must have a special education background.
The Salem County Special Services School District, which also partners with schools in Cumberland County, anticipates having three or four jobs for teachers and some classroom aide positions, a good foot-in-the-door for those who haven’t found jobs. But some candidates will need specialized certifications in speech and occupational therapy.
John Klug, superintendent of the small K-8 Fairfield Township School District in rural western Cumberland County was one of the most popular recruiters, and the last to leave on Tuesday. Due mostly to retirements, he has seven job openings in preschool, first, second and sixth grades, and middle school math. Students, some of whom didn’t know where Fairfield Township is, waited patiently to meet him and he took his time talking with them.
“I got some good candidates,” he said as he packed up to leave. “I’ll go over them with the principal and we’ll invite some in for interviews.”
Klug said he hired a science teacher from Stockton last year, and he believes the quality of candidates has improved in that they are interested in teaching, not just looking for new jobs.
“Last year I asked someone why she wanted to be a teacher, a real softball question, and she said because the real estate market was in the toilet,” he said.
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