Teaching scholarships ongoing despite vague job outlook in state|Officials say need for teachers remains, even in tough economy

Published 6:17 am Friday, July 10, 2009

Staff Writer

In Raleigh, the state is considering cutting thousands of teachers by increasing class sizes. At the same time, state and local officials are offering scholarships to encourage students to become teachers.
But officials say the situation isn’t as bad as it seems at first blush.
“There is some stress out there among teaching fellows, as there is with non-teaching fellows,” said Jo Ann Norris.
But the schools will still need teachers, she said.
Norris, as associate executive director of the Public School Forum, administers the N.C. Teaching Fellows Scholarship Loan Program. She’s been with the program since its inception in 1986.
Many teaching fellows come to work in Beaufort County, which hosts tours for them while they’re in school, said Beaufort County Schools spokeswoman Sarah Hodges. And many students from Beaufort County go into the program, as well.
Take Marina Bonner of Edward, who graduated in May.
She had wanted to teach since the fifth grade, when her teacher was Ron Clark. Clark taught in Harlem after leaving Beaufort County and later won widespread recognition for his work with disadvantaged children.
He has become something of a celebrity for his work, appearing on the Oprah Winfrey Show and serving as the subject of a made-for-TV movie, in which “Friends” television show star Matthew Perry played Clark.
To help realize her goal, Bonner took the same path Clark had 15 years earlier — she went to East Carolina University as a North Carolina Teaching Fellow, pledging to teach in North Carolina in exchange for financial help with school.
Now Bonner has seven years to put in four years of teaching.
Each year a teaching fellow works removes $6,500 of debt, Norris said. In lieu of working to remove the debt, students can pay off their balance, she said.
The students in Beaufort County’s Grow Our Own program face the same four-year obligation, though the program, which is only two years old, doesn’t have any graduates yet.
“We’re hopeful that by the time they get out, maybe this will be better,” Hodges said.
Bonner did manage to find a job — though she hasn’t signed anything yet. To do that, she had to make some concessions, she said.
“You had to look in places that you normally would not have considered,” Bonner said.
She added later, “It’s going to be at least an hour commute, anywhere I go.”
Bonner said she thought being a teaching fellow helped her with the search process.
“I think being a fellow definitely helps,” Bonner said.
And she said she was confident she would be able to work off her obligation.
“The state office is aware of what’s going on, and they’re not going to leave us high and dry,” she said.
Norris said the state office will have a better handle on the situation in October, when it will know how many of its teachers actually found work.
In the meantime, she said, many young teachers have been told their contracts won’t be renewed as school systems shudder in anticipation of budget cuts. But many of those positions are likely to be re-added, she said.
“We’re still in that no-man’s land where local school systems have no idea what their teacher allotments are going to be,” she said.