Despite choppy waters, the state sees an increased interest in teaching

In the current economic climate, even the most challenging and poorly compensated jobs are piquing interest.

Couple the stagnant job market with the fact that applicants for teacher certification can expect to shell out hundreds of dollars in a lengthy bureaucratic process, one might expect the teaching profession to receive only tepid interest from jobseekers. Yet the state has recently seen a rather dramatic increase in people desiring to become teachers. Oklahoma and several surrounding states continue to certify increasing numbers of new teachers even as public instruction faces continued budget cuts.

Before the downturn in the economy, Oklahoma certified 7,056 new teachers for the 2007-2008 school year, up from 6,568 during 2006-2007, according to figures from the Oklahoma State Department of Education. For 2008-2009, however, that number jumped to 9,190, an increase of nearly 30 percent.

Oklahoma is not the only state with an upturn in the number of professionals seeking teacher certification. Surrounding states such as Colorado, Arkansas and Texas have also seen steady increases.

Although Colorado experienced an increase of 3.4 percent from the 2007-2008 school year to 2008-2009, officials are anticipating a spike.  

"In April 2009, our Office of Professional Licensing processed 2,814 applications, said Mark Stevens, spokesman for the Colorado Department of Education. "In April 2010, the number processed was 3,454. From May 2009 to May 2010, the number of applications processed went from 1,849 to 2,873."

Texas does not anticipate such a jump, although the state has experienced modest increases in the number of teacher certifications per year, trending upwards anywhere from 1.75 to 3.15 percent over the past three years, according to data provided by the Texas Education Agency.

While the numbers may indicate that school administrators more than ever will have an opportunity to hire the very best, the increased interest may be setting the stage for job shortages.

"There have been severe budget cutbacks in all (public) schools this school year, with more severe fiscal cuts coming for the 2010-2011 school year," said Shelly Hickman, spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Department of Education.   

Hickman added that many districts have announced staff reduction plans for the 2010-2011 school year, and many are not renewing contracts for temporary or first-year teachers. Others, she said, are making additional support staff cuts.

Those interested in teaching can expect to put in a lot of time and money into getting certified, which isn't a perfect system for selecting the best teachers.

In Oklahoma, testing costs alone can run more than $400, even if you pass on the first try. Additional fees generally run $108-$208 depending on whether the applicant is an education major seeking a standard certification or a graduate of a college program unrelated to education.

"Truly, a standardized test does not tell you if you can teach in a classroom," said Terry Byers, who teaches fifth grade in Edmond. "There are so many skills that are not taught in college."

Byers has taught for 37 years, and although she is eligible for retirement, she isn't ready to close the book on a career she loves.

"That's the thing about teaching " if you love it, it is the most exciting thing you can do, because no two days are exactly alike."

above Terry Byers sits in her fifth-grade classroom at Washington Irving Elementary in Edmond, where she has taught for 16 years. Photo/Mark Hancock

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