A tough job market for teachers: myth or reality?

The start of the school year brings many familiar rituals for educators – setting up the classroom, preparing new lesson plans and working to create a dynamic and challenging learning environment for students.

Each September also seems to bring with it media reports of a tough job market for new teachers. A recent article in the Vancouver Sun, for example, cited many instances of young teachers struggling to find permanent positions in the Lower Mainland.

But is this year any different from prior years? Is it accurate to suggest that the current job market for new teachers is more difficult than in the past?

The answer depends on the type of teacher you're talking about – something that's frequently overlooked. If you're a specialist teacher (whether in secondary science, French Immersion, home economics or other specialities) you're more likely to have an easier time finding a job. Generalist teachers, on the other hand, might experience a longer job search.

From August 31, 2009 to September 2010, BC school district employers posted 92 teaching vacancies in French Immersion compared to 17 in general teaching roles on Makeafuture.ca. It's a simple case of supply and demand: districts usually have a large pool of generalist teachers to choose from, while the number of qualified specialist teachers can be quite small. Whether or not you believe the job market for teachers is particularly tough also depends on where you're looking. Jobs in some school districts in the Lower Mainland may be scarce, but the situation is quite different when you move beyond the urban centres to rural districts.

"It's simply not accurate to claim that there are few jobs out there for new teachers," says Janet Stewart, Director of Make a Future – Careers in BC Education. "It can certainly be a struggle to get established – particularly for generalist teachers seeking employment in large urban districts – but this situation is not new. It's been a fact of life for many years."

"I think it's important to let people know that there are many opportunities for young teachers, particularly if they have a specialized focus or are willing to relocate. It's equally important to frame the issue properly, so instead of lumping all teachers together into one large group without differentiating between them, it would be more useful to look at particular sub-groups of teachers – specialists versus generalist, for example – when talking about the challenges and opportunities faced by new graduates."