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Teachers learn to scramble for work

Instead of teaching in a Rogue Valley classroom as she had hoped, recent Southern Oregon University master's graduate Carly Bodle will head to a tiny town in Alaska to instruct 12 fifth-graders this fall.

Jobs are so scarce in Southern Oregon — and the rest of the state — due to budget cuts that many of the 97 recent graduates from the university's master's in teaching program are heading to other states, finding unrelated employment or substitute teaching to make ends meet, Bodle said.

"There really aren't any jobs for teachers in Oregon, especially new teachers," the 24-year-old said. "I'm hoping the job market will get better and I can come back and be around family and friends in about three years."

Three of the graduates in her elementary education cohort of 13 have found teaching jobs in the area, but the rest are exploring other options, Bodle said.

One found a teaching job in Hawaii. Others are submitting their applications, along with hundreds of others, for the few open positions in Oregon.

Still others have decided to move to Portland to substitute teach, hoping the gig will eventually lead to full-time employment in the metro area that employs the most teachers in the state.

The majority of open positions are for special education, math or science, areas that few teachers specialize in, said Amy Belcastro, SOU associate education professor.

Other positions have opened up because of retirements, but the job market is still tight, because districts are opting not to fill all open positions and there is a glut of laid-off teachers seeking employment, she said.

"It hasn't been like in the past where there's a big rush and everyone's getting hired," she said. "Still, there is a lot of movement and a lot of retirement happening, and I think that's what's saving us. All the baby boomers are leaving, and districts aren't refilling all the positions, but they are refilling some."

Medford School District, the largest district in the Rogue Valley, had only about 25 open positions this summer, compared to 50 in a typical year, said Todd Bloomquist, human resources director. About 35 people applied for each position, he said.

The district has gone from having about 600 teaching positions to only 550, due to budget constraints, Bloomquist said. He doesn't expect the Oregon teaching job market to improve for four or five years.

"I think overall it's a fairly depressed state right now in terms of actual positions that are available," he said. "I think we're going to stay flat for a while."

Belcastro said a few recent grads have been hired in Ashland and Medford, but the majority of them are still looking for jobs. About a fourth of the graduates she supervised in the elementary and middle school program have signed job contracts, some in other states such as Alaska and Arizona, she said.

"If they're able to relocate, they don't seem to have problem finding employment," Belcastro said.

If Bodle hadn't found a job this summer, she planned to join the Peace Corps for two years, in the hopes her teaching prospects would improve during that time.

In April, she and many other SOU students traveled to Portland to attend a job fair for teachers. Some students stood in line for two hours to get information on open positions in Portland and the Rogue Valley, she said.

"I didn't even want to stand in those long lines, so I went to the Alaska school districts and I got an interview right away," Bodle said.

Alaska is hiring because it has more money than many states for education and a high turnover rate for teachers, she said.

The state also pays teachers more than in Oregon. Bodle will earn about $50,000 a year, while starting teachers in Oregon typically earn about $38,000, she said.

But all of that comes at the cost of being far from home. Bodle will teach in Tuluksak, a rural town of about 340 people in southwest Alaska. She'll have only a dozen students in her class.

She plans to pay off her student loans, gain teaching experience and someday find a job in Oregon.

"I want to be a teacher no matter what," she said. "I figure someday they'll realize how important we are."

Reach reporter Hannah Guzik at 541-776-4459 or email hguzik@mailtribune.com.