ABOVE: MTSU student teacher Kiara Richardson is assisted by Sumner County Schools recruiter Marla Pike during the MTSU College of Education’s Student Teacher Seminar and Recruitment Fair held Wednesday, Dec. 12, in the Student Union Ballroom. Employers from across the region and as far as China came to meet with graduating student teachers. (MTSU photo by J. Intintoli)
From China, to Washington, D.C., to right here in Sumner County, representatives from more than 40 school districts and educational entities convened on the Middle Tennessee State University campus this past week seeking to hire the next crop of new teachers to help lead their classrooms.
MTSU’s College of Education hosted the Fall 2018 Teacher Recruitment Fair inside the Student Union Ballroom, giving dozens of graduating teacher candidates a chance to hear from recruiters about what their districts could offer while also sharing their own resumes and interest in pursuing any open positions.
The event represented the final seminar for Residency II student teachers who have spent the entire semester at teaching assignments to finish their degree track. Some have job offers already while others were looking to secure one before picking up their diplomas at Saturday’s fall commencement ceremonies at Murphy Center.
MTSU College of Education Dean Lana Seivers was thrilled with the student and recruiter participation at Wednesday’s event, recalling that when she arrived to campus in 2010 that such a fair usually would draw only a handful of school districts.
But with the state and nation facing an ever-growing teacher shortage, MTSU has emphasized growing the number of districts attending under the leadership of Bobbi Lussier, executive director of the COE’s Office of Professional Laboratory Experiences.
This year’s attendees came primarily from districts across Tennessee but also drew recruiters from Alabama and Georgia districts as well as from the Sea Dragon school in China.
“Quite frankly, we have a good product,” Seivers said, adding that her college has redesigned coursework and clinical experiences in the schools over the past several years that essentially give student teachers “on-the-job interviews” as they proceed through their programs.
Wednesday’s attendee list featured numerous public school districts, but also a variety of private and charter organizations seeking new hires. Student teachers received a booklet listing all of the participating districts and schools as well as a breakdown of any open positions and key contact information.
“Our faculty and staff have worked really hard to design our teacher education program in a way that partners with school districts and prepares teachers to go out and make that difference,” Seivers added.
MTSU ‘very supportive’ of student teachers
But in the teaching profession, graduating is just an initial step. The College of Education must then recommend candidates for licensing and those candidates must also pass a number of national tests before obtaining their licenses. Seivers said the university produces an average of 250 to 300 license candidates each year.
“The experience that MTSU gives you through student teaching, it prepares you for those exams,” said graduating senior Nicole Strong, an early childhood education major from Mt. Juliet, Tennessee.
MTSU has memorandums of understanding with 47 school districts across the state to provide student teaching assignments.
Strong, who has been a student teacher in Murfreesboro City Schools and Wilson County Schools, said the recruitment fair provided a great opportunity to interact with the recruiters, gain valuable information about each school district, including benefits.
“I had no idea of all of the counties surrounding us that were looking for teachers. This has been really helpful,” said Strong, who hopes to land a job in the Middle Tennessee area but is open to relocating farther away for the right opportunities.
Strong started out as a public relations major at MTSU, but once she became a mom, she gravitated toward the teaching profession. And she became even more so drawn to the classroom after having a second child.
“It’s been an adventure, and MTSU has been amazing at helping me through my journey,” she said. “They’ve been very supportive and I’ve really enjoyed every second in the field. … They’ve really done a great job of preparing us for the real world.”
With shortage, ‘always looking to hire’
Kris Marshall, a team evaluation analyst in human resources for Rutherford County Schools, was seeking candidates like Strong wanting to stay in the area. Sitting in one of the fastest growing counties in the state and nation, the 45,000-student district is opening two new schools this year and is constantly trying to keep up with the population growth that swells existing schools and classrooms.
An MTSU alumna herself (Class of 1985), Marshall said MTSU has provided an extremely critical pipeline of new teachers for years, so such recruitment fairs are critical for a large system like RCS, which hired roughly 500 teachers last year alone.
“We’re always looking to hire,” Marshall said. “We’re a large district and we’re growing all the time.
“The demand is serious and it’s going to get even larger as we go along in the teacher shortage,” she said, before referring to the “silver tsunami” of retiring baby boomer teachers and the inadequate pipeline in place to fill the need for not only teachers, but other occupations as well.
Echoing a sentiment from Seivers, Marshall said it’s becoming more urgent for universities, school districts and society in general to encourage more young people to consider careers in the classroom, with teaching areas such as special education, math and sciences, English language learners in critical need.
“Teachers make a big difference … but teaching is hard,” Seivers said. “It’s a calling.”
“To be there for those students who need you every day; you’re with them for eight hours and they need your support and they need your love,” she said.
After she left her last student teaching assignment, Strong said she received 48 letters from her students as a farewell gesture.
“It brought me to tears,” she said. “You don’t even realize it, but they take in so much that you don’t even see. One child said, ‘I remember how you told me I was cute when I didn’t know the answer to a problem.’ … It’s awesome to really see the impact that you make.”
For more information about the MTSU College of Education, visit https://www.mtsu.edu/education/index.php.