Thousands of prospective teachers are besieging Baltimore's suburban school systems for jobs this summer, submitting applications in record numbers to some counties.
Applicants outnumber job openings by 10- , 20- and even 30-to-1 in some counties, leaving personnel offices scrambling to keep up with the paperwork.
But what appears to be a glut of prospective teachers in the suburbs isn't the whole picture, as many applicants in one county are the same ones seeking jobs with the other school systems. And while some disciplines are attracting hundreds, if not thousands, of applicants, far fewer educators are available in other subjects.
Nevertheless, with only about 1,400 projected job openings in Baltimore's five surrounding suburbs, some prospective teachers are sure to be left jobless come fall.
"I'm just sitting here now biting my nails," said Michelle Edwards, 24, of Hillendale. The Towson State University graduate's top choice would be to teach at an elementary school in Baltimore County, but she has applications in at almost every area suburban system.
"I've redone my resume, I've made sure the school systems have evaluations, and I've handed in my official transcripts," she said. "With so few jobs and so many people applying, I'm taking whatever I can get."
Because the suburbs offer higher salaries and better resources and working conditions than the city and rural school systems, more teachers looking for jobs are applying exclusively to Baltimore's surrounding counties.
For example, Howard County, which expects to hire 200 to 250 teachers next fall, has 5,000 applications on file -- more than twice the total number of teachers employed by the system. About 3,000 people have applied for Harford County's 90 projected openings.
And in Carroll County, which has the fewest number of applications of any suburban system, the 2,000 applicants still outnumber the projected job openings by 20-to-1.
"We're busier than we've ever been this time of year," said Albert W. Tucci, a supervisor in Howard County's personnel office.
"Our challenge . . . is to be thorough, because we can't ignore applications, and we don't just hire the first 10 qualified people through the door."
Meanwhile, just 1,100 people are seeking to fill more than 300 projected openings in Baltimore.
"We seem not to get as many applications," acknowledged Kenneth M. Kuyawa, the city schools' interim director of the office of employment and placement.
"Part of it has to do with the beginning salary, which is lower than in the counties, and part of it has to do with the reluctance of some teachers to work in urban schools."
Unlike the suburbs, the city schools rely on such programs as Teach for America to fill about a fifth of their open positions.
One applicant who has decided to make the commitment to the city is Towson State graduate Huyen Truong, 21, of North Baltimore.
"In the county you do see yourself making a difference. But in the city, sometimes the school is a home for a lot of the kids and the teacher is sometimes their only positive role model," said Ms. Truong, who will teach next year at John Ruhrah Elementary School in Canton.
"It did take me a while to decide to accept the job, because I know it isn't going to be easy, so I can understand all of my friends who have said they'll teach anywhere but the city."
Of course, not every field of teaching is equally competitive.
While large surpluses exist in early childhood and elementary education, biology and social studies, other subjects have fewer applicants, including special education, physics, advanced high school math and Spanish, according to personnel directors and a state Department of Education report.
"We try to let our students know early on what subject areas
tend to be in greater demand by the school systems," said William L. Gray, the director of University of Maryland Baltimore County's undergraduate program in education.
Such difficult competition in elementary education makes Towson State graduate Cheryl Shiflett one of the more fortunate applicants. The 24-year-old Dundalk resident already has a job lined up for the fall to teach second grade at Dundalk Elementary School.
"This was my dream, and it happened. I'm going to be working in the school I attended," Ms. Shiflett said. "I'm so lucky to have heard so soon."
In those subject areas where there are fewer applicants, many school systems -- including the suburban ones -- will be scrambling to fill positions as the summer progresses.
"Toward the latter part of the summer, it gets more difficult to find qualified people who are not working yet," Dr. Tucci said.
In the end, it remains unclear how many prospective educators will remain unemployed when the schools open in the fall.
For example, area personnel directors know that the bulk of the applications to county school systems come from the same few thousand people, about 70 percent of whom are in their first year out of college.
One estimate puts the number of teachers with three or more applications in to county school systems at 85 percent or higher.
"I'm sure that most of the people who have applied to our school system also have applied to Howard County and Baltimore County and other nearby school systems," said Suzanne Q. Hoffman, Anne Arundel County's supervisor of professional personnel. "They're just anxious to get a job. I can understand that."
But if one adds up all of the projected openings in Baltimore's five suburban school systems, it equals fewer than a third of the people -- 5,000 -- who have applied to Baltimore County alone.
That means some applicants who have decided "suburban schools or bust" are likely to remain jobless in the fall.
"The problem with this kind of job is that if you don't get hired by September, you have to wait a whole year," said Karen Barkley, 23, of Annapolis, who graduated from UMBC this spring.
"I guess that my fallback will be to substitute teach, because you get your name in the system and then sometimes you can get hired midyear or the following fall."
Other options include private schools, tutoring or sitting out of teaching for a year, applicants say.
But accurate statistics don't exist on the number of applicants who fail to get jobs in area school systems. Graduates tend not to tell their local universities whether they end up in-state, out-of-state or out of education. And no one keeps a record of how many people move to Maryland and fail to find a teaching job.
The only sure thing is that some applicants will end up jobless -- and the universities warn them.
"It is very, very competitive, so we try to encourage our students to expand their horizons beyond the metro area," said Tom Proffit, the assistant dean of Towson State's department of education.
Said UMBC's Dr. Gray: "Some people say, 'I want to teach in these counties, and that's it.' But they're really limiting themselves in many respects, and I think they're a little unrealistic. . . . A lot of people want to teach in a county like Howard County, but it's not all that large."
TEACHER JOB PROSPECTS
Numbers of applications, expected job openings and current teaching staff are estimates provided by the individual school systems. The ratio depicts the number of applications vs. the number of job openings.
School system -- Anne Arundel
Applications -- 3,000
Openings -- 300
Ratio -- 10:1
1994-1995 teaching staff -- 4,100
School system -- Baltimore City
Applications -- 1,100
Openings -- 325
Ratio -- 3.4:1
1994-1995 teaching staff -- 6,300
School system -- Baltimore County
Applications -- 5,000
Openings -- 650
Ratio -- 7.7:1
1994-1995 teaching staff -- 7,000
School system -- Carroll
Applications -- 2,000
Openings -- 100
Ratio -- 20:1
1994-1995 teaching staff -- 1,500
School system -- Harford
Applications -- 3,000
Openings -- 90
Ratio -- 33:1
1994-1995 teaching staff -- 2,300
School system Howard
TC Applications -- 5,000
Openings -- 225
Ratio -- 22:1
1994-1995 teaching staff -- 2,400
SOURCE: Local school systems.