Fewer Georgians set out to be teachers

Shrinking teacher supply

12,436 — students who received teaching certificates in Georgia for first time in 2007-08 school year

8,250 — students who received teaching certificates in Georgia in 2009-10

7,200 — completed teacher-preparation program in Georgia in 2008-09 school year

6,405 — completed teacher-preparation program in Georgia in 2011-12

9% — decline in people employed in Georgia in local government education services over the past five years

Ruth Caillouet spends her days teaching others to become teachers, but she’s noticed there are fewer people in her classroom and others at Clayton State University, where she chairs the department of teacher education.

“We’re definitely seeing some drop-off,” Caillouet said.

Statistics verify what she has seen. Fewer people are becoming teachers in Georgia.

Some say that has already hurt students.

During the 2007-08 school year, 12,436 students received teaching certificates for the first time, according to the Georgia Professional Standards Commission. Two years later, the total fell to 8,520 and it has remained about the same each year since.

During the 2008-09 school year, more than 7,200 people completed Georgia teacher-preparation programs, according to a federal report; three years later, 6,405. Nationally, there’s been a similar decline, federal data shows.

Experts interviewed blame a combination of low starting pay, fewer jobs since the Great Recession and criticism of public education. Some administrators, particularly in South Georgia, say the decline has already resulted in more substitute teachers and larger class sizes.

“Our academics are down in the areas where we have teacher shortages,” said Carolyn Williams, executive director of the Middle Georgia Regional Educational Service Agency, one of 16 such agencies designed to help school districts.

The biggest needs, many say, are for foreign language, special education, math and science teachers — areas where there is already a shortage, even though state leaders have stressed the importance of math and science for years because of the high-paying jobs awaiting Georgians proficient in those subjects.

Tim Helms, who runs the RESA in southwest Georgia, said there’s a big need there for teachers in STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and math), as well as principals and nonwhite teachers. The Georgia Professional Standards Commission, he said, gave his RESA an $88,000 grant to “attract, recruit, hire and retain” teachers.

Georgia is toughening teacher-license requirements, and many experts say that’sa factor, but most say the decline in new teachers is really a matter of economics.

Starting annual pay in most Georgia districts is slightly above $30,000. That’s not a lot when you have to repay student loans and, in many cases, spring for classroom supplies, educators say.

In most school districts, teacher salaries and benefits make up more than 60 percent of the annual budget. Some districts’ budgets are still less than they were before the recession.

“One thing that’s going to impact career choices is where are the jobs?” said Kelly Henson, executive secretary of the state’s Professional Standards Commission. “Because of the decrease in the amount of funds, there are fewer positions and that has impacted people’s career choices.”

Some districts, like Atlanta and Gwinnett, say they’re not seeing a shortage. It’s more evident in Middle and South Georgia, educators there say, because teachers leave in search of better pay and bigger-city life in metro Atlanta.

“They think they should be making $60,000 out of the gate,” Helms said. “They wind up making $35,000 and say ‘I can’t live off of that. I need to be making $60,000 or $70,000.’ That’s not going to happen in South Georgia.”

There were 9,259 fewer teachers in Georgia at the end of the 2012-13 school year than there were four years ago, state data shows. The number of Georgians working in local government educational services has declined 9 percent over the past five years, state Labor Department records show. That decline is greater than in any major Georgia industry.

State Rep. Amy Carter, a teacher herself, said the problem is not solely about money. She said some teachers leave the profession because they’re frustrated by issues like a lack of support from administrators.

“It’s more about the quality of life,” said Carter, a Republican who teaches at Lowndes High School in Valdosta.

Henson, the PSC secretary, is hopeful the job climate will improve over the next five years. He noted several school districts gave teachers raises this year and there were no furloughs, for the first time in years.

Caillouet, the Clayton State professor, is not as optimistic. “I’m expecting the drop to continue,” she said.

On a recent Wednesday, about 800 men and women searched for teaching jobs at the Fulton County school system’s fall career fair. Some were waiting outside before the doors opened. One Fulton official called the turnout “phenomenal.” They, too, have noticed a decline in job candidates.

“Across the board, the numbers are down,” said Arthur Mills IV, the district’s director of talent management. “It’s made it much more challenging to find teachers.” Fulton, like many districts, has increased its teacher qualification standards.

Fulton has about 50 teaching vacancies out of 7,500 positions, Mills said. The fair is part of the district’s year-round approach to find high-quality teachers, Mills said.

Cartersville resident Darrius Shaw, 22, was looking for a job at the fair. He was a science major at the University of West Georgia, but got involved in a teaching program on campus and had what he described as “the light bulb moment.”

“People are like ‘Why? (become a teacher),’ but there is a need,” Shaw said.

Carter teaches an internship program at her school where high school juniors and seniors help teach elementary or middle school students. The students get college credit and a small amount of money and learn whether they want to teach. Some do. Some don’t.

Local teacher-recruiting efforts include a partnership Gwinnett County began with Georgia Gwinnett College in 2010 that works in essence like a minor league baseball system. The college recruits Gwinnett County high school graduates, and those who are interested in teaching learn Gwinnett’s curriculum.

Cathy Moore, dean of Georgia Gwinnett College’s school of education, said about 64 percent of its graduates have gotten jobs in Gwinnett.

“They make outstanding employees because of the time they spend in the schools,” said Sid Camp, Gwinnett’s director of human resources.

Atlanta Public Schools is also working with a nearby college to recruit teachers. Recruits spend a year shadowing a high-performing teacher while completing a master’s program in education from Georgia State University. The students must spend five years teaching in the district.

Houston County school officials went to recruitment fairs in other states, said Williams, the Middle Georgia RESA director. Some districts are recruiting people in other professions, Williams noted, such as encouraging accountants to become math teachers.

Another example, Helms said, is his daughter. She graduated from college four years ago with a degree in exercise science and wanted to be a personal trainer. Two years ago, she called him and asked to move back home because she was “flat broke.”

She joined a program that helps people in other professions become teachers, is now about to graduate from it and is back on her own again.