Minnesota losing its new teachers

  • Article by: KELLY SMITH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 1, 2011 - 6:25 AM

Jamie Mroczkowski works with toddlers, including Timi Bellow, 2, in Maple Grove. She hopes to get a job teaching first grade.

Photo: Renee Jones Schneider, Star Tribune

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Introducing Minnesota's latest school dropouts: new teachers. As baby boomer-age teachers postpone retirement and schools' battered budgets force annual layoffs, the number of new teaching hires in the state has dropped by more than half in the past 11 years, according to state data.

Some leaders fear that heightened public scrutiny of teachers will discourage even more prospective teachers from entering K-12 schools.

"We're losing teachers faster than we're losing students, and we're getting bashed all the time," Anoka-Hennepin union President Julie Blaha said.

The question she's hearing more often: "Is this a good time to go into teaching?"

Republicans leaders say the House education bill passed Wednesday, while not a response to the decline in new teachers, will help attract and keep new teachers by weakening the seniority system. It limits collective bargaining rights and eliminates teacher tenure.

"Right now in Minnesota we have quality-blind layoffs ... it's strictly seniority-based. We're trying to change that," said Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, Education Finance Committee chair.

"It's not about whether teachers are younger or older; it's that we have high-quality teachers in the classroom."

Jamie Mroczkowski of Minneapolis wants to be one of them. The 2009 college graduate couldn't find a teaching job and works 60 hours a week caring for toddlers at a preschool and waiting tables at Broadway Pizza. Still, she holds out hope she'll someday land her "dream job" teaching first grade.

"This is what I want to do," she said. "Hopefully things will look up."

Fewer people, however, appear to be waiting it out.

Worth the wait?

Over the past decade, the number of teachers statewide has remained flat. This year, 1,526 new teachers entered Minnesota schools -- less than half the 3,371 teachers who started in 1999-2000. The state defines new teachers as those working in the field for the first time.

Licensing director John Melick said streamlining licenses in 2000 reduced duplicates. But numbers of new teachers have continued to dive since the economy soured in 2008.

That isn't the case nationally, said Richard Ingersoll, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania who's studied teacher retention. In the past 20 years, the profession ballooned by 50 percent. Today, a first-year teacher is the most common teacher in schools, he said.

"We don't fully know what the reason is," he said. "But it appears Minnesota is different."

It could be a regional trend. In Iowa, the number of beginning teachers has remained flat for about a decade as the number of retirement-eligible teachers nearly doubled in the past 12 years, according to the state's Education Department.

Two of Minnesota's largest school districts, Anoka-Hennepin and Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan, have stopped attending career fairs because the saturated job market, declining enrollment and budget cuts have dried up openings.

"We aren't out there looking for teachers like we used to," said Tom Pederstuen, Rosemount's human resources director. Rather, they've cut staff and turned away substitutes.

That leaves people like Rachel Tollefson wondering if it's worth the wait. The 27-year-old moved in last year with her parents in Plymouth after she was cut twice from teaching jobs. Now she baby-sits and tutors kids.

"I have thought about transferring out," she said. "There's not much out there."

If people like her bail on teaching, it could result in teacher shortages when baby boomers eventually retire, especially in rural schools, said Charlie Kyte, executive director of the Minnesota Association of School Administrators.

It also "takes a chunk of experience away from the kids and the school environment," said Education Minnesota President Tom Dooher, adding that legislation such as the House bill has hurt recruiting.

"Why would you go into this," he said, "if there are constant cuts, layoffs, unfair criticism that you are responsible for every flaw in society ... pay freezes [and] elimination of collective bargaining rights?"

One who has given up -- for now -- is 23-year-old Emily Glueckstein, who took a job last year as an assistant to a Minnetonka sports agent. She said she'll search again for a teaching job this summer but plans to apply in other areas, too.

As baby boomers retire and new teachers quit, a 2010 national report warns that the teaching pipeline will collapse at both ends. First-year teacher attrition has steadily increased and the nation has the oldest workforce in more than half a century, according to the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future.

"The future is a big question mark," Ingersoll said.

Cusp of retirement wave

At the University of Minnesota, the number of applications to the College of Education and Human Development dropped and flattened the past five years. In the 2006-07 school year, 560 people applied; last year, 431 people did.

"The rhetoric is turning people off of teaching," said Misty Sato, assistant professor of teacher development and science education at the U.

The Minnesota Association of Colleges for Teacher Education hasn't seen much change over the past five years in the number of people completing teacher preparation programs. However, some may leave the state to teach elsewhere or not go into teaching at all, President Bruce Munson said.

That's what 28-year-old Sarah Blum of St. Louis Park did, moving to Arizona to teach because, unlike the tight Minnesota market, "they were handing out jobs."

A year later, she returned to teach at a Twin Cities charter school but was later laid off. Now she's joining other jobless teachers at the U to earn a degree in special education, a field in higher demand than classroom teaching.

"Right now in Minnesota, it's been bad," added Nicki Stemper, who graduated in 2010 and gave up trying to find a teaching job in her hometown of St. Cloud to teach in Texas.

Stephany Jallo, a 44-year-old businesswoman-turned-teacher, has had her temporary school jobs cut four years in a row. This spring's no exception in Richfield. "Every summer, you just have that anxiety," she said.

One ray of hope for new teachers may be an approaching retirement wave. Teachers age 55 and older have doubled in a decade, and superintendents project 2,772 teachers will retire by 2013.

Although many veteran teachers have delayed retirement, Blaha said she's seeing more on the verge of quitting, tired of increased testing and public scrutiny.

"As the pressure has gone up," she said, "the interest [in retiring] has gone up."

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