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N.C. Teaching Fellows competing for fewer jobs

Today, Elizabeth Harwell begins her first day of school teaching math to 7th graders at Hawfields Middle School in Mebane.

But just last week, the 2009 graduate of the UNC Teaching Fellows program didn’t  have a job lined up for the year.

Harwell was hired late because many counties did not hire teachers until the state budget was passed in August. Without knowing the final budget, schools didn’t know how hard they would be hit by the cuts and whether they would have money to hire new teachers.

Although many of the 345 teaching fellows who graduated in 2009 initially had trouble finding jobs, it became easier once the schools knew what they had to work with.

“They were told to plan for the worst and hope for the best,” Harwell said.  “So they cut according to the budget last year and when the budget was approved very late in the summer, they did find out that they had more money and the positions opened back up.”

N.C. Teaching Fellows receive an annual $6,500 scholarship for four years at a state university. Following graduation, fellows are required to teach for four years at a state public school in order to repay their scholarship. If they don’t complete the requirement within seven years of graduation, they have to repay their scholarship with 10 percent interest.

It is hard to determine right now  how many teaching fellows are in that situation, how many found jobs last-minute and how many will find jobs in the state this year because many, like Harwell, were hired late, said Jo Ann Norris, the state-wide administrator of the Teaching Fellows scholarship.

Fellows can apply for a one-year extension up to three times if they cannot fulfill their service within the seven year period. Although she was not aware of fellows doing this in the past, this is the worst economic climate the program has ever seen, Norris said.

“During this climate, there’s no  question that fellows are going to have to be very, very proactive.”

For many teachers, this will mean working in the state’s rural areas because May graduates couldn’t find jobs in Wake, Orange and Mecklenburg counties, said Adam Buff, a 2009 UNC graduate of the program now working toward his Master of Arts in Teaching.

“We have 1.46 million students in public schools in North Carolina this coming year, and so we’re going to have positions,” Norris said.

“The question is … if the job is three counties over or five counties over, is that something they can do? Can they move to go where the job is?”

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