Education Colleges Teach Students the Reality of Today's Economy

By Andren, Kari | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, August 22, 2011 | Go to article overview

Education Colleges Teach Students the Reality of Today's Economy


Andren, Kari, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


Alexis Gentile's dream of being a special-education teacher isn't something a stumbling economy or thousands of teacher layoffs statewide can stifle.

The California University of Pennsylvania senior hopes to land a job teaching life skills to elementary school children near her hometown of Newtown in Bucks County. She's undeterred by the more than 1,200 teacher layoffs in neighboring Philadelphia or the blows dealt to public education in every corner of the state.

Statewide, nearly 4,000 teachers have been furloughed this year in the wake of a $900 million cut in state funding for education. With about 130,000 teachers employed in classrooms, the furloughs amount to about 3 percent of the state's teachers.

"I think every one of us is a little scared of (the job outlook)," said Gentile, 22. "I am very much aware of what's going on. That has opened my eyes that after I graduate, it will probably be more difficult."

A dose of reality, along with a teaching certificate, is what colleges and universities are hoping to deliver to their students in today's economy.

Since the 2005-06 school year, the Pennsylvania Department of Education has awarded 101,200 certificates to new teachers.

Deans of education colleges at Western Pennsylvania universities say they are not discouraging students from becoming teachers or responding with program changes in light of the tight job market. Instead, they're counseling students about where teachers are still in demand -- fields such as math, technology and the sciences, and in geographic areas that have trouble retaining teachers, such as inner cities and rural areas.

Officials also say they are encouraging students to get dual certifications and stressing the need to cast a wide job-search net.

"When we're out recruiting, what we're trying to do is let people know where the opportunities are," said Alan Lesgold, dean of the School of Education at the University of Pittsburgh. "In the long run, universities do really well when their graduates do really well, and that's what we want."

He said universities cannot make instant U-turns. Programs take years to develop, and students are always in the pipeline, Lesgold said.

"Even if you tried to respond on the spur-of-the-moment, you can't. We respond to changes in society and changes in need, but part of our job is to not respond too quickly," Lesgold said.

"Once people are in the pipeline ... it's hard to go to them and say, 'You shouldn't be a teacher; you should be something else,'" said Doug Peden, executive director of the American Association for Employment in Education, which connects universities with school districts in search of teachers.

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