April 13, 2021
Given the change of course that has happened in the world, we wanted to provide expert opinions on what aspiring graduates can do to start off their careers in an uncertain economic climate. We wanted to know what skills will be more important, where the economy is doing relatively well, and if there will be any lasting effects on the job market.
Companies are looking for candidates that can handle the new responsibilities of the job market. Recent graduates actually have an advantage because they are comfortable using newer technologies and have been communicating virtually their whole lives. They can take what they've learned and apply it immediately.
We spoke to professors and experts from several universities and companies to get their opinions on where the job market for recent graduates is heading, as well as how young graduates entering the industry can be adequately prepared. Here are their thoughts.
Central Washington University
Department of Education, Development, Teaching and Learning
Dr. Wendie Lappin Castillo Ph.D.: This seems like more of a personal opinion rather than a professional question. I believe the impacts will vary on a spectrum of how the pandemic was experienced by each graduate individually. Some graduates faired safe and stable, others felt stress and uncertainty. This is a true personal spectrum that would truly need to be asked to each student.
Dr. Wendie Lappin Castillo Ph.D.: We prepare our candidates to be Licensed Public School Teachers. Of course, my answer would be.....Teaching! Teaching is the most rewarding career on the planet! We have prepared our teacher candidates to teach in multiple types of platforms.
Dr. Wendie Lappin Castillo Ph.D.: The best way a teacher can increase their earning potential is by working toward a Graduate Degree.
California University of Pennsylvania
Department of EducationWebsite
Jason Kight: There is no doubt that the pandemic will have an enduring impact on folks graduating this year. Their college experience has been like no other. Their lives have been turned upside down losing loved ones and friends to this virus as well as contracting it themselves and becoming very ill. Most went home on spring break in 2020 and just returned to campus this spring to student teach. Some of us have not been on campus since the beginning of March 2020. They went through the adjustment of having online courses to finish out the spring 2020 semester and had all courses through Zoom last fall.
This semester, their student teaching experience has also been like no other before. All started their student teaching experience in front a computer instead of in front of a classroom full of students. As the semester has worn on and the number of cases of COVID 19 have decreased, schools have started to slowly transition back into the classrooms going a few days a week. Now, most are back to five days a week of in person instruction. It is nice to see that they get to finish student teaching in a somewhat normal situation!
I would like to think that as a whole, this experience will prepare them well for a career as a special education teacher. First of all, these students have learned the important character traits of resilience and perseverance. These traits will help them overcome any obstacles that they may encounter in their future classrooms. Moreover, I hope that their experiences have taught them to be flexible and adaptable to the unpredictability that comes along in special education. They witnessed firsthand how their professors had to be flexible and adapt to deliver to instruction them. Likewise, they had to adapt to the instruction themselves and both had to work together to hold things together and keep moving forward in the face of all of the challenges and distractions.
Jason Kight: Any degree in special education is very valuable to someone entering the job market. Special education positions are challenging. There are high rates of turnover in these positions. As the old saying goes, "it takes a special person to a special educator". Some folks get burnt out. Some folks use the position as a "foot in the door" to a more favorable position in a general education classroom. The greatest need right now in special education is middle and high school special educators who also hold certification in math and science. Superintendents have a difficult time finding teachers for these positions.
Jason Kight: Location, location, location... Teacher pay is generally based upon the school district and the property taxes within that district. It can also vary greatly from state to state. As a whole, teachers are underpaid. This deters some of the best and brightest students from majoring in teacher education. If teachers want to increase their earning potential, they can move to a district that pays more or earn advanced degrees to increase their pay faster. A lot of teachers have side hustle jobs in the evenings, weekends, and in the summer to supplement their income. It is really sad that they have to do this but as a society we do not value teachers. As I have grown older, it has become worse.
University of Massachusetts Amherst
Department of Student DevelopmentWebsite
Tammie Samuels: It is of my perspective that there will be a long-term impact on how we prepare prospective Special Education candidates. The change, however, is positive. Special Education faculty must now consider how to regularly and consistently implement various technological platforms and strategies into the current curriculum. Our doing so will model for prospective 21st Century teachers the new and progressive way of reaching and teaching PK-12 students.
The traditional use of direct instruction as the primary teaching method must be reconsidered due to COVID-19. Special Education teachers must now scale-up, so to speak, by working even more collaboratively with students and instituting more constructivist approaches to their instruction. The child that was once positive, energetic and excited to come to school and learn may now display a negative, listless, and depressed attitude after being schooled at home.
Along the same lines, interfacing with a PC and other forms of technology for primary learning allowed the child more autonomy. The level of autonomy declines for the child when the special educator must directly address specific goals and objectives of an IEP. Because of this, students' emotional and behavioral dispositions may transition during lessons and must be acknowledged in order for the learning process to take place (e.g. during COVID, students determined whether they physically remain during an entire lesson, show their faces, eat/drink during instruction, receive instruction in or out of bed, etc.).
The upcoming graduates of this academic year (2021) will face unorthodox changes to teaching. Even so, they are more equipped to accommodate students because of their own ability to resonate with the adverse consequences of COVID-19. All have received practical experience with licensed special educators to disseminate trial and error-based remote instruction to students with disabilities.
Tammie Samuels: University of Massachusetts Amherst special education graduates must pass MTELs (Massachusetts Tests of Educator Licensure) in order to teach professionally in the state of Massachusetts. COVID-19 restrictions have posed challenging situations and scenarios for preservice and prospective teachers to meet this requirement.
For example, testing dates and sites have been altered and cancelled. Although done for safety and health measures, it has caused tremendous anxiety and stress for graduating and matriculating students.
Prospective teachers must also complete a practicum (student teaching) component in a classroom with students with disabilities.
Because many schools encountered closures, uncertainty with instructional format (e.g. hybrid, face-to-face, fully remote) and systemic instability, our prospective special education teachers have to display a decorum of professionalism that includes a tremendous amount of flexibility and humility. As a result, this too, can be viewed as positive, since situations are never stagnant, routine or predictable in the field of special education.
COVID-19 has helped to shape our teachers for quality.
Tammie Samuels: Most persons to enter the field of special education do so because of personal or familial reasons. It is well known that teaching is not a profession that financially rewards educators equitably, as do other vocations such as medicine and law. Nevertheless, the earning potential for novice special education teachers can and will increase if our graduates secure profound experience in the classroom. Of course, salaries are more competitive when the special educator has graduate degrees to compliment years of classroom teaching.
University of Hawaii at Manoa
Department of Special EducationWebsite
Rhonda Black: Teachers will need proficiency in technology. Even as we go back to face-to-face learning, many aspects of online learning will not go away. We've learned a lot during the pandemic. I believe that we will have much more technology use in the schools. Online resources is a huge trend right now. People who can create visually stimulating educational videos and interactive webpages are in demand.
Technology coordinators in schools will also be more in demand.
Rhonda Black: Teacher licensure is essential. If someone has DUAL licensure in general education and special education, they are much more marketable. Adding an additional licensure to one's college program of study typically involves 30 university credits.
There is a current trend to add certificates (typically resulting from a series of 15 to 18 credits of focused college coursework) to supplement teacher licensure. Right now, an additional certificate in Multi-language learning, Literacy, or STEM makes one more marketable and provides an avenue for pay raises.
There is also a trend for getting a Behavior Analyst certificate. That will add to one's marketability. The last trend is for paraprofessional educators (teacher aides etc.) to have an Associate's Degree in Teaching.
Rhonda Black: Salaries have been a little behind cost of living increases. The average wage increase is from 1 to 2% per year.
In comparison to other fields, Education has not seen an increase in interest or value. However, the benefits are great. If you factor in things such as retirement, health, dental, vision, and prescription medical care it may compensate for salaries being somewhat lower. Many professions have moved towards contracting out much of their work. However, those contracted employees are not eligible for benefits. Paying for one's own insurance can be very pricey.
University of California, Los Angeles
Dr. Eduardo Lopez Ph.D.: Given that candidates have been teaching online for the past year, they will need to make a transition to teaching in-person the following year. One of the major skills they will need to learn is how to effectively manage the classroom. They have not been able to practice these skills given that learning has occurred over Zoom.
Dr. Eduardo Lopez Ph.D.: The first year after graduation is a busy one given that students are learning to be a full-time teachers. They are juggling learning to teach effective lessons, manage students, and create lessons. Some teachers in the first year often stay after school working on lessons and correcting papers until 7 or 8pm. An important skill to learn during this time is create a work/life balance.
Dr. Eduardo Lopez Ph.D.: Teachers pay increases with more classes they take and professional development sessions they participate in. Participation in the union is also important in order to learn about workload, pay and health benefits.