Teachers Fight For Jobs

Teachers Fight For Jobs

Recruitment fair draws hundreds for interviews.

Fleur Hargreavs came a long way for a chance to teach in Arlington county.

The native Australian signed up with a teacher recruitment agency two years ago, willing to go just about anywhere in America to teach. That decision landed her in Fayetteville, N.C., where she teaches kindergarten. But after learning about Arlington Public Schools from friends, she decided she had to relocate.

Hargreavs flew to Arlington last weekend just to attend Arlington Public Schools’ teacher recruitment fair on Saturday, Jan. 25, at Washington-Lee High School. The fair, one of several APS hosts each year, drew hundreds of teachers and would-be teachers who, like Hargreavs, want to compete for a limited number of teaching vacancies in Arlington Public Schools next year.

While the fair was scheduled to start at 10 a.m., applicants began lining up an hour early. So many came to apply, they more than outnumbered the interview slots available, and a long line was left feeling cheated at 2 p.m., when school officials locked the doors and ended the fair.

Even those that did make it to an interview were left feeling cheated, as hour-long waits led to five- or 10-minute screening interviews. “I think my time in coming out here today is worth more than five minutes,” one man said. The pace of each interview, he said, was so rushed that it was impossible to get an accurate picture of the applicant.

Wanda Gant, an APS personnel technician who helped guide applicants through the interview process, said she heard few complaints. “It’s been smooth, it’s been successful,” she said. Teacher hopefuls checked in with representatives of the school system’s Personnel Department, and then were split into groups according to grade level and subject they hoped to teach.

Hargreavs had a favorable experience but said she could understand the applicant’s concerns. “You do feel for these teachers because they’ve been waiting for ages,” she said.

Was it worth traveling 300 miles and waiting in line for hours just for a chance to teach in Arlington? “I think it is if that’s where you really want to be,” she said.

TEACHERS FROM NEARBY school districts said that the diversity of the student bodies and faculties in Arlington make the county an attractive place to teach.

The school system also seems well organized and supportive of teachers, said Gloria Davis, currently a teacher at Oxon Hill Middle School in Prince George’s County, Md. School board commitments to reduce class size and keep salaries competitive also help draw applicants to Arlington, she said.

Those advantages aren’t as common in neighboring districts such as Prince George’s, she said. “You sometimes wonder why you do it,” she said.

Job fairs can leave both employer and prospective employees hanging for months, since applicants aren’t applying for specific positions. In fact, school officials will not know for how many teaching positions will be available next year until the school board approves a budget in March.

Pat Murphy, director of personnel services, said officials don’t even know for sure which subjects and which grade levels will need teachers next year. That uncertainty doesn’t disrupt the recruitment process, though, because officials know the trends from previous years.

Special education, math and science are typically the in-demand subjects. Bilingual teachers also have an important place in the interview process. “That’s a hard skill to come by,” said Murphy. With two full Spanish language immersion programs opening in 2004, school officials will need even more bilingual educators throughout this year’s hiring process.

WITHOUT KNOWING which positions will be vacant next year, some applicants are just trying to put themselves near the top of the list of potential hires for when jobs become available. Teaching summer school in Arlington was one way of doing that.

Hargreavs said she expressed an interest in teaching summer school so that she could build teaching experience locally. It’s hard for school administrators to assess the strengths of teachers with an international background, she said, because licensure standards are so different.

Teachers who are not licensed by the Virginia Board of Education can be hired on a provisional basis while they work toward their accreditation, but getting hired is more difficult for those applicants.

Most new teachers in Arlington come in already possessing a master’s degree, said Superintendent Robert Smith. Hiring for 2004 will be more competitive than last year, Smith said, because school enrollment is expected to decrease, meaning fewer new teachers will be needed.

Saturday’s job fair drew a variety of applicants, ranging from experienced teachers hoping to relocate to recent college graduates looking for their first employment.

To assist those inexperienced teachers, the job fair featured a seminar on Virginia licensure guidelines as well as information from George Mason University and the University of Virginia on graduate studies in education.