Special ed, math, science teachers in high demand

The hiring outlook is promising for teachers looking for jobs, local school districts say, especially those hoping to find their way into math, science, foreign language and special education classrooms.

Spring months are when the majority of job openings will be posted and filled. As much as possible, school districts try to settle their personnel needs for the next school year by the end of the current school year.

“There are jobs available. We do not have enough candidates in the state to meet the needs of our districts,” said Karen Lovett, director of human resources for the Richland 2 school district. “We never have enough applicants to share.”

Lovett said that’s because fewer young people are going into teaching.

But that’s not what Ed Dickey has seen. In his 30 years at the University of South Carolina’s College of Education, Dickey said the number of teachers coming out of that school has remained fairly steady.

Another constant, Dickey said, has been the shortage of students interested in teaching science and math. It can be difficult to convince top math and science students to forgo high-paying careers in fields such as engineering and medicine in favor of teaching jobs, he said.

“We try to talk about (how) there’s more to life than just making money and the prestige of a job. There’s a lot of reward in knowing you’re making a difference in people’s lives,” Dickey said. “I’m worried that the perception of teaching as a great career is going to be hurt by ... what people hear about the teaching profession.”

The pool of applicants to be early childhood and elementary teachers always is bigger than the pool for higher-level, subject-specific teaching positions, district officials say. There is usually a shortage of candidates when it comes to vacancies in upper-level math and science classes, foreign languages and special education classes, they add. Library media specialists are also in demand.

“When you only get a limited number of math teachers and every district in South Carolina needs a math teacher, somebody is not going to get a math teacher,” said Winnie Brown, interim chief human resources officer for Lexington-Richland 5. “We would love for the pool to be larger so that every district in South Carolina could get a qualified, great applicant.”

Dickey said the College of Education typically graduates nearly 400 students going into teaching – more than half focused on early childhood, elementary and middle education. Only 60 or so head for high schools and another 60 or so for special subject areas, such as theater, foreign language and school counseling.

Meanwhile, the number of typical new hires each year in local districts ranges from the dozens to the hundreds.

In both Richland 1 and Richland 2, for example, officials said more than 200 teacher hires typically are made in each district. Last year in Lexington-Richland 5 schools, there were 50 first-year teachers. Kershaw County schools hired about 40 to 60 teachers last year.

Upcoming teacher recruitment fairs this month and next in most Midlands districts will allow prospective teachers and school representatives to become acquainted with one another.

Districts use the recruitment fairs as a way to get a feel for the job candidate pool and get to know potential hires as well as show off what makes their schools special.

“Obviously, we are competing with other districts in the Midlands,” said Frank Morgan, superintendent of Kershaw County schools. “This helps us sell our district.”