Math, science, and ESL teachers in demand, especially in urban and rural schools, according to Western Governors University SALT LAKE CITY — Despite a shaky job market and budget cuts at many levels of government nationwide, economic analysts say there remain plenty of job opportunities for would-be teachers, Western Governors University (WGU), www.wgu.edu, reports. The nonprofit online university, analyzing data from several agencies and organizations that report on the job market for teachers, found that the greatest opportunity exists for those interested in teaching certain high-demand subjects, looking to work in specific geographic areas, and, perhaps most importantly, possessing the right mix of passion, education, and training. In fact, across-the-board, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts a growth rate of 13 percent for the teaching profession from 2008 to 2018 — a number that places teaching at the upper end of “average” for the job market as a whole. Special education, math, science, and ESL: the brightest spots The outlook is even brighter for some specialties in the field: Special education teachers, for example, are predicted to increase at a rate of 17 percent during that same period. “Excellent job prospects are expected due to rising enrollments of special education students and reported shortages of qualified teachers,” according to the BLS. Special education teachers typically require more training and education than other teachers. In many states, a master’s degree is required, leading students nationwide to look to the flexibility of earning their Master of Special Education degree online. BLS predictions also call out math and science as teaching specialties promising above-average growth. Teachers who are bilingual are expected to be in especially high demand, both for classrooms where English as a second language is a focal point and for bilingual education for students of all backgrounds. An accredited online education degree in any of these specialties is available at WGU. WGU’s Teachers College was the first at an online university to receive accreditation from the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE). The college has 31 bachelor’s and master’s degree programs, some leading to licensure and others ideal for existing teachers looking to add an advanced degree to their résumés. WGU’s teacher education programs include extensive in-classroom practice teaching in addition to online study and learning. As of July 2011, more than 10,000 students nationwide were enrolled in a WGU teacher education program, and nearly 6,500 had earned degrees from the Teachers College. Location, location, location The prospect for finding a dream teaching job also varies greatly depending on where someone lives — or where they’re willing to live. The BLS reports that one of the biggest factors in how easy a teacher’s job search will be is whether they live in a rural, suburban, or urban area. By and large, the suburbs are already saturated with qualified teachers. It’s in the inner cities and the rural outskirts where the teaching jobs are most plentiful — and, often, the most rewarding. Another important geographic consideration is the education and licensing a teacher’s state of residence requires. WGU’s programs offer a path to teacher licensure in every state. Challenging job market facing many teachers The American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA, also known as the economic stimulus package) pumped $97.4 billion into education via the U.S. Department of Education, which reports that, as of September 30, 2010, all of those funds have been awarded. Based on self-reporting from the states and school districts that received those grants, approximately 275,000 education jobs — including teachers, principals, librarians, and counselors — were saved using ARRA money. Still, it’s not all smooth sailing for would-be educators. With stimulus funds already having been spent and many localities and states diverting education funding to cover other shortfalls, the state-by-state picture varies dramatically. According to a July 2009 Center for American Progress report, many school districts will face stagnant or declining revenues in the coming years. Teachers also face mounting competition as professionals who have been laid off or are looking to leave economically hard-hit fields like business are pursuing new careers in teaching. More and more states are allowing licensure of teachers who have earned their degree in another field, and those professionals find the availability of online teaching degrees enables them to begin the transition to teaching while maintaining full-time jobs. Standing out among the crowd Experts in education point out that, in this competitive field, a would-be teacher’s greatest advantage is his or her passion. Teachers often work long, hard hours, competing during the day for students’ attention in an increasingly distracting world and struggling with budget cuts, school and district politics, flustered parents, and the demanding work of lesson planning after the children have gone home for the day. A teacher who withstands these demands and thrives in the face of them is the kind of teacher who molds resilient students prepared to charge into the future. And it’s these teachers who catch the attention of school and district officials making hiring and promotion decisions. A student who has this passion knows it, and it’s what drives him or her to dive into an online teaching degree in spite of — maybe even because of — the challenges it represents. WGU’s competency-based learning model focuses on rigorous programs that call on students to prove what they know, not just count the hours they spend in a classroom. And a dedicated current teacher with that passion channels it into growing professionally and staying on the cutting edge for the benefit of his or her students. Once again, an online university works very well for a teacher in this position: Working teachers seeking an advanced degree from schools like WGU are able not only to go to school while continuing to teach but also to apply what they’re learning on a daily basis in the classroom.