While many school systems across the United States struggle with the unpleasant task of cutting faculties, shortages of instructors for certain subjects persist. And education specialists sight a more general "boomlet" in teacher hiring on the horizon.
While enrollment nationwide has been declining, it is still rising in some parts of the US, particularly in the South and West. And the country is experiencing what amounts to an echo of the post-World War II baby boom.Its impact is expected to hit the elementary schools by the mid-1980s and last for several years.
"I think it's possible that the demand for teachers will exceed the supply by 1985 and that by 1988 the supply could only meet 80 to 85 percent of the demand, " says Robert Heideman, educational placement director at the University of Wisconsin School of Education in Madison.
And Lloyd Kelley, director of adult education services in the Vermont Department of Education, says: "We have some critical shortages -- even in some areas where we've had an oversupply of teachers in the past."
"The situation is definitely changing," agrees Dr. Leandro Bartolini, who keeps a similarly close watch over teacher supply-and-demand figures for the Illinois State Board of Education. "Some of the areas of shortage are the chronic ones, but in many of them the problem is intensifying."
The trend to individualized instruction could also add to the need, especially for highly qualified teachers.
Another factor in the equation is that fewer young people are majoring in education, and a smaller than usual proportion of these are gaining certification and going into teaching.
"We're training fewer teachers than ever before -- no question about it -- and more are going off into other jobs," Mr. Heideman confirms.
Because of the prevailing belief that good teaching jobs are few and far between, the number of college students majoring in education remains small.
The longtime oversupply, Mr. Heideman suggests, "set the basis for the continuing view that there aren't any jobs -- despite the fact that in 50 to 60 percent of all teaching fields that isn't true."
Without question, salary levels below those of private industry and all the recent talk about teacher stress and burnout have played a deterring role. In the state of Vermont, long a traditional importer of teachers from other states, two of last year's four graduates from state institutions who were trained to teach math chose jobs in private industry instead.Indeed, according to figures from the National Education Association (NEA), the average beginning salary in private business for new graduates in math is higher than the average teacher's salary in 26 states.
Also, though women have long headed primarily for teaching and nursing as careers, women as a group now are much more interested in a variety of other fields. Over the last decade there has been a drop of close to 30 percent nationally in women college freshmen who say they are interested in an education career.
The budget crunch in some states has forced a number of teacher layoffs. And the proposed education cuts of the Reagan administration could tighten teacher demand still more. But shortages in technical teaching fields are expected to persist and deepen.
"We don't expect any shortages of serious magnitude.It won't be a wide open field for a long time," says Dr. william Graybeal, the NEA's research specialist on teacher supply-and-demand figures. "But shortages will probably continue to be fairly widespread in math, science, industrial arts, and special education. . . . We think in general the situation could go either of two ways, depending on whether or not salaries and working conditions improve. Plenty of people are being prepared to teach, they're just not being attracted to the job."
The experts suggest that for anyone considering teaching, training in more than one subject and willingness to be mobile will be major factors in finding a good position.