March 28, 2012
College seniors pitch for teaching jobs at annual recruitment event
Robb Aitchison sat down after his third job interview of the day Tuesday, taking a breather while he waited for another summons to another interview.
Rows of chairs were filled with nervous college seniors at SUNY Cortland’s Park Center Alumni Arena, as the college hosted its 29th annual Teacher Recruitment Days. Education students from 11 colleges, including SUNY Cortland, met Monday and Tuesday with recruiters from 35 school districts in not just New York but Arizona, North Carolina, Florida, Maryland and Delaware.
Aitchison, 36, had just talked to a recruiter from Howard County Public Schools in Maryland. He will finish a master’s degree in special education at Syracuse University in May, to go with a bachelor’s degree in physical education that he received in 2008 from SUNY Cortland.
He previously received a political science bachelor’s degree from Stony Brook University and worked in insurance and a crime prevention agency before deciding he wanted to teach.
“Yes, I changed careers, and the transition has been tougher than I thought,” said the Otisco native. “The opportunities are not there. Some recruiters like a person with some experience, some might not if they want a younger person they can mold. But I’m meeting people, making connections, so who knows?”
Aitchison had 10 interviews lined up between the two days. He said Ithaca and Broome-Tioga BOCES were among them.
Aitchison lives in Camillus. His wife Laura teaches physical education in the Auburn Enlarged City School District. He has been a substitute teacher in the West Genesee schools and a physical education teacher at Port Byron Central School, but was laid off and went back to school.
The colleges that sent students included SUNY Potsdam, SUNY Oswego, Ithaca College, Binghamton University and Le Moyne College.
This year’s Teacher Recruitment Days event was still small compared to years ago, when recruiters filled the arena floor and the elevated concourse above it. The peak year was 2004, with 168 school districts and 300 recruiters.
The number shrank drastically in recent years as budget cuts due to the poor economy forced school districts to cut jobs or not fill vacancies.
Out-of-state school districts, which flock to hire New York college graduates, have not had the travel money lately as much as they once did. The Cortland recruitment event is followed by events in Rochester and Buffalo, so they spend four days in upstate New York.
But the numbers were up from last year, when 30 school districts came. Some Arizona and Maryland districts were making job offers, which students had 10 days to accept.
There were 64 people recruiting for the 35 districts, and 371 students signed up for interviews for the two days combined, 128 of whom were from SUNY Cortland.
New York colleges are sought after.
“There are really good pre-service programs in New York,” said Dave Perrington, human resources director for the Caesar Rodney School District in rural Delaware. “SUNY itself has always had a good reputation. Some of the mainstay districts aren’t here, they’ve had layoffs and cutbacks, but we’re starting to see it come back. There are positive signs, maybe we’ve hit bottom (in the economic crisis).”
Perrington said he had 70 jobs to fill, looking at candidates from New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware. He said his district — with 7,600 students — is an hour from Philadelphia, 90 minutes from Washington, D.C., and 45 minutes from the beach towns, in an affordable area, so it is attractive to college seniors.
He said his teaching jobs were mostly in math, sciences and technology education, but English teaching jobs are opening up nationally, too.
In the waiting area, SUNY Cortland physical education majors Daniel Guido and Aly Case waited between interviews. Case graduated in December and has been student teaching in Victor, not far from her native Canandaigua.
“The interviews are similar, but the questions vary, probably reflecting the schools,” Case said. “We’re expected to coach sports too, as part of our student teaching, and I coached modified boys’ basketball and now I’m coaching junior varsity girls’ softball. It’s a good way to end the school day, after teaching.”
Harry Potter was keeping SUNY Cortland history major David Malader occupied two rows behind them. He was reading “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” to steady his nerves.
“I wanted a story and didn’t want to think,” he said.
Malader said he had interviews Monday with Polk County, Fla., and Stafford County, Va. He was signed up for just one Tuesday, with Ithaca City School District.
Malader said he knew how difficult the job market has been for prospective social studies teachers, who major in history with a concentration in adolescent education. The college’s Department of History makes it clear that few districts are hiring social studies teachers, and urges majors to think about other career options.
Perrington — the Delaware recruiter — said he was a social studies teacher “and 20-plus years ago, I heard the same thing. It’s always been a crowded field.”
Malader was about to discuss some other books he has been reading when a staff member called his name at 12:40 p.m. He excused himself and strode off to meet the Ithaca recruiter, resume in hand.
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