Vito Prosciutto: Teaching community college math on the road to a PhD.

Monday, August 30, 2004

Sunday Search: number of math teaching jobs increasing 

I've decided to add a new weekly feature here, where I'll take on a search topic that shows up in my referrer log and do what I can to provide an interesting, if not accurate response. (Yeah, I know, "Sunday search" is starting on a Monday. Next week it'll probably be on Tuesday since I'll be away for the long weekend.)

So someone was looking to find out about whether the number of math teaching jobs is in fact increasing. I can't say for certain, but I can offer bits of anecdotal evidence from my own job search this past summer:

First off, there were a lot fewer math jobs than I had been lead to expect, at least at the high school level. I think that a big part of this has been the Bush economy with its low job creation. During the dot-com bubble, smart mathematically inclined people could pretty easily find a programming job or something else technical that paid quite a bit better than teaching (from 1997-2001, I was never involuntarily unemployed for less than a week or so, and saw my salary increase with every new job (except for the last job hop, where I went from an overpaid contract position to a less overpaid salaried position).

But now, things are grim. After I was laid off from that last job, I looked for work for 6 months and only got one interview, let alone saw any job offers. Under these circumstances, I suspect that someone who might be thinking about leaving the teaching profession might be more hesitant to do so because of job uncertainties (anyone have teacher retention stats for the last four years? preferably on state-by-state break-downs since the economy has been rather uneven across the country).

For the one position where I had any numbers, there were 20 applicants for the position. That's more than the total number of job openings that I saw.

Where we find the big shortage of math teachers, at least in my metropolitan area, is at the junior high level. I had plenty of opportunities in that arena (in fact, had I been willing to teach junior high, I could have had a guaranteed job back in March). It also seems that the most troubled schools have shortages not just in math, but in all subject areas.

Is the total number of math teaching jobs increasing, though, without regard to the number of openings. On this front, I think that the answer probably is yes, if only because of upgrades to state and district graduation requirements. When I was a high school student in the 1980s, HS graduation required just one year of math (increased to two years when I was a senior). That same district now requires three years to graduate. The state requirement here is two years with many districts requiring three to graduate. This has, as a matter of course, forced an increase in the number of math teachers needed. Add in high school exit exams that dictate a proficiency in algebra and there is an increase in the number of positions required, but one which has been building gradually over the years. The days of math teachers being able to write their own employment tickets are probably over, at least until we see another economic boom period to echo what we saw in the 90s.

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