Coloradans turn to teaching in tough economy |

Coloradans turn to teaching in tough economy

Jeremy P. Meyer
The Denver Post

More people are turning to teaching as the economy worsens, producing a backlog of applicants for teacher licenses and competition for the few vacancies open next school year as districts make budget cuts.

Applications are piling up in the Colorado Department of Education offices, where workers are sorting through two to three buckets of mail every day from people seeking educator licenses, said Barb Allen, supervisor of licensing.

“It’s unprecedented,” Allen said. “I have been in this department for over 16 years in licensing. And we’re just buried.”

More than 1,000 people have applied for substitute authorization in the last 10 months ” a 51 percent increase since June, Allen said.

Also, about 900 people who don’t have teaching backgrounds applied in 2008 to enter an alternative-teacher- preparation program to receive their licenses ” a 13 percent increase over 2007, Allen said.

In many cases, Allen said, these are people who have lost their jobs and are seeking a way to get into teaching.

“These are jobs, and when you become an employee of a school district, you get good benefits,” she said. “How many jobs can you walk in with that?”

But it’s not that easy. Districts are facing budget cuts and are eliminating teaching positions. A demand still exists for teachers who specialize in math, science, special education and bilingual education, Allen said.

“If someone is looking into teaching, it would be smart to go into these areas,” she said. “There is a shortage, so they probably will find a job.”

However, others seeking to enter the teaching field may find a tough job market.

“There aren’t going to be that many jobs available to outside candidates,” said Jim Christensen, superintendent of Douglas County Schools ” which has 4,100 applications for a handful of new jobs for the 2009-10 school year.

The district is eliminating more than 60 teaching positions because of a budget shortfall and will likely hire external candidates only for hard-to-staff positions, such as math, science, special education and bilingual Spanish, Christensen said.

“The good news is that the pool will continue to grow and the community can expect high-quality people in the classroom,” he said.

Denver Public Schools is cutting 2 percent from next year’s budget, resulting in positions being eliminated in schools.

Tenured teachers will be found jobs, but it is unclear how many new teachers will be hired, said Shayne Spalten, DPS human-resources director.

This is occurring while the district has partnered with organizations to bring in new teachers from people who are changing career paths.

The Denver Teacher Residency program, patterned after the medical model, puts midcareer professionals alongside veteran teachers for a year before they get their own classrooms. In its first year, the program got 953 initial applicants for 25 positions.

Denver Teaching Fellows, which offers training in the summer for midcareer professionals who want to become teachers, had 1,089 applicants for 50 positions in its second year.

“We have a lot of candidates who have always thought of teaching, but it was never the right time to make that transition,” said Kate Brenan, site manager for Denver Teaching Fellows. “For some folks, they have been put in the position that it is a right time.”

Teach for America ” a national program that brings the brightest college graduates into classrooms for two-year commitments ” is entering its third year in DPS.

The program has placed 124 teachers in DPS schools and is looking to expand to neighboring districts next year. Nationally, the program had 35,000 applicants for roughly 4,000 positions, said Sean VanBerschot, executive director for Teach for America, Denver.

“We’ve had some of our highest-rated applicants ever,” VanBerschot said. “We have more people who met our bar in as far as high quality than we have for placement.”

In two large metro districts ” Cherry Creek and Jefferson County ” substitute teachers are so plentiful, districts are hiring only those who have previously held teaching licenses. Jeffco, the state’s largest district, even stopped taking on new subs.

Hiring managers at Jeffco say they expect about 200 applicants for every opening ” about twice the usual number. Those applicants will have to compete against internal candidates ” people who have been with the district as either permanent or temporary teachers, said Superintendent Cindy Stevenson.

“I don’t predict we are going to hire a lot of new teachers,” Stevenson said.

With forecasts predicting teaching and health care will be viable careers in the near future, she cautions people from getting into the teaching career purely for economic safety.

“You’d better love it, because it’s hard,” she said. “My first caution is make sure you know what you are getting into and make sure you love it because our kids deserve that.”

Jeremy P. Meyer: 303-954-1367 or

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