May 5, 2009
Social studies majors find fewer job openings
Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Matt Friedson, right, speaks with a student in class Monday morning at Homer Junior High School. The SUNY Cortland senior is having a tough time finding a teaching job.
Matt Friedson and Andy Carnwright entered their senior year at SUNY Cortland with few illusions about their job prospects.
The two will graduate later this month as secondary social studies majors, at a time when school districts in New York do not have many openings.
The New York State Council for the Social Studies confirmed there are fewer teaching jobs this year but did not have statistics.
Friedson is also a history major and Carnwright is also a political science major. Both have been thinking about other career paths to follow if they cannot find teaching jobs.
The college encourages secondary social studies majors to be flexible, said Gigi Peterson, the history professor who coordinates that major.
Peterson assigns seniors in her student teaching seminar to write two out of three application letters: teaching job, graduate school, non-teaching job. Along with versatility, she encourages students to take temporary jobs or substitute teaching jobs while keeping their eyes on the goal of full-time teaching.
“We have a pretty high success rate with students who stick with looking for a job,” she said. “Everything goes through cycles.”
Wayne Bark, personnel development director for Maryland’s Baltimore County schools, was eager to recruit teachers of all kinds at Teacher Recruitment Days April 23-24 — except secondary social studies teachers.
He said social studies majors asked if he would accept their resumes anyway.
“They seemed so defeated,” he said. “There are always too many social studies majors, every year. This year, our openings are few and far between. We can fill them mostly from Maryland colleges.”
Bark said colleges should recommend that secondary social studies majors spend an extra year in school, getting certified in reading, Spanish or special education.
“That would give them something else to go with it,” he said. “They could help in a social studies classroom.”
Peterson noted that the number of jobs in certain fields varies as teachers decide to retire and districts determine staffing needs.
“It’s a competitive market for teaching jobs,” she said. “We advise students that if they are determined to stay in their home area or a certain area, they could have a hard time. We have students think about ways the skills they gain while teaching could translate into other jobs, even temporarily.”
Peterson said she encourages students to think about what aspects of the major drive them to teach, such as a passion for history itself, and build on that.
SUNY Cortland produces about 40 to 45 secondary social studies teachers per year.
The SUNY Cortland history and political science departments help students think about careers in law, international work, park services or county historical societies.
Friedson did the first phase of his student teaching this spring with Groton High School juniors and is now teaching seventh-graders at Homer Junior High. Carnwright’s student teaching was first with sophomores at Groton and now with seventh-graders at Chenango Forks.
Student teachers must work with teachers at the high school and middle school levels. Student teaching ends three days before graduation.
“I loved it,” Friedson said. “I prefer teaching middle school a little more.”
The two housemates on Tompkins Street saw few openings when they attended SUNY Cortland’s Teacher Recruitment Days. They each were interviewed by only two school districts.
They said only four or five out of the 62 districts at the event were looking for social studies teachers.
Carnwright said one interview seemed more like a courtesy, as that district did not have an opening in secondary social studies.
He plans to move home to Cornwall in Orange County and work as a substitute teacher while he looks.
Friedson, who is from Niskayuna, plans to enroll in graduate school to study public policy administration, most likely at the University of Massachusetts. He said graduate school will provide a place to weather the poor economy until more jobs open up.
“Then I could go into government work or get certified in special education,” he said.
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