New teachers struggle to find jobs

A third-grade teacher with her class in a Chicago school.

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Tess Vigeland: The jobs picture for last month had a bit of Rorschach to it. You could see gloom, another 54,000 jobs gone from U.S. payrolls. Or you could see growth. Most of the losses were from temporary census jobs and the private sector actually added 67,000. Well, today we profile jobseekers who actually found work.

Youth Radio's Maya Cueva followed two newly-minted teachers in search of their first classroom. Budget cuts here in California have made that task much harder and finding the perfect job required a whole lot of homework.


Maya Cueva: Nessa Mahmoudi graduated from UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Education this spring. She was 24, just starting a career and, like everyone else in her class, facing one of the toughest job markets in memory. But Mahmoudi had a strategy.

Nessa Mahmoudi: You know, in my mindset, I'm like, "Where do they pay the least?" That's where they need me the most.

In the San Francisco Bay Area, that means Oakland Unified, where teachers are the lowest paid in the county. But Oakland Unified didn't exactly need Mahmoudi. With $122 million in budget cuts this fiscal year, dozens of tenured teachers were already being laid off. And district administrators told Mahmoudi not to bother applying. But she ignored them.

Mahmoudi: Though I know I don't have a lot of space to be picky, because there's not a lot of jobs, I figure it's best to go in with the mentality that there is something that I am looking for, and that the school needs to be a fit for me and not just whatever job pops up.

Burnout is high for new teachers, so finding the right school goes a long way towards keeping teachers happy. Mahmoudi's former professor, Ingrid Seyer-Ochi coaches students to be selective about jobs. But with less than 10 percent of her students landing jobs by graduation...

Ingrid Seyer-Ochi: They feel like they're not going to be in a position to be able to choose the kind of school they want to teach at. They're going to have to take, in some cases, the jobs that they can get.

But Mahmoudi kept her sights set on Oakland Unified.

Mahmoudi: Because though she's saying don't look, in August they're going to need teachers, it's just the reality, and we're kind of just having the faith.

Mahmoudi's faith paid off, well ahead of schedule. In July, an East Oakland elementary school hired her to teach first grade in a dual-immersion English/Spanish program. It was pretty much her dream job.

But she was lucky. Many teachers who play the waiting game, don't end up with offers until after the school year has started.

Emily Chan: I couldn't imagine being a first-year teacher and trying to start your classroom and get your classroom culture going, a week into school when they've had a week of substitutes.

That's Emily Chan. She was one of the few teachers lucky enough to have a job by graduation. Early into her spring semester, Chan started applying to charter schools, which had some of the only jobs available. She landed a middle school science position at Making Waves Academy in Richmond, Calif. Because her school hasn't been hit as hard by state budget cuts, Chan expects to expects to have more resources than most public classrooms, and more time for staff development.

But Chan made other compromises. Her school isn't unionized, there's no tenure, and...

Chan: They don't actually have a pay scale. It's not like if I work there for however many years it'll go up. So that's a point of concern a little bit for me.

A concern because Chan has thousands of dollars in student loans to repay on her teacher's salary. Mahmoudi also has school loans, but money isn't her main worry. State budget cuts mean larger class sizes. That's a real challenge for a new teacher.

Mahmoudi: That I'm afraid of, yeah. I mean, I was in a first-grade class with 24 kids. Twenty-four was fine, but that's the limit, you know, but it's not going to be the limit.

With the first day of school upon her, Mahmoudi is feeling optimistic. She gets that from her parents, who emigrated from Iran during the revolution. She says they raised her to be idealistic...

Mahmoudi: But they also raised me to believe that big-scale revolutions are not possible, and that you start with one-to-one work with people.

And this perhaps is the biggest worry about the shortage in teaching jobs: That in five years, there'll be no one left to do that one-on-one work in the classroom. Analysts say fewer jobs today means people won't train to be educators tomorrow. And eventually when senior teachers retire, we'll be looking at the opposite problem -- a teacher shortage.

In Berkeley, Calif., I'm Maya Cueva for Marketplace Money.

Vigeland: Thanks to Youth Radio for producing that story.

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