Mariah Roberts had barely finished registering for the Baltimore County Schools job fair when two vice principals smiled broadly and waved her over to their recruiting table.
They presented the future special educator with a yellow lanyard and pens and enthusiastically embarked on a selection interview.
“I really like this candidate here,” Lansdowne Middle School administrator Koneisha Robinson told her colleague, loud enough for others nearby to hear.
County school staff are set to return to work on August 22 amid widespread shortages of educators, bus drivers and other essential staff. To help fill the more than 400 vacancies reported earlier this month, the school system launched weekly recruiting events across the district to put applicants directly in front of hiring managers.
Roberts’ family pressed her for two years to apply to the county school system; she graduated from county schools and her mother worked there. She had previous experience in special education at a non-public school and decided to return to working with children after a gig in mental health services.
“I’m just excited for a new adventure, to give back to my community,” she said at Thursday’s event at Loch Raven High School.
Staffing needs are significant in Maryland public schools as the COVID-19 pandemic expands. In recent years, teachers have had to deal with issues such as health risks, discipline issues and pressure from parents. During this same period, many teachers changed jobs or left the field.
Mark Woodruff was working at the Institute of Notre Dame, a Catholic college preparatory school for girls in the city of Baltimore, when it abruptly closed during the first months of the pandemic. The county resident turned to private tutoring services for a few years but decided to attend the job fair when he learned of the staffing shortages on an evening news show.
“I live half a mile away,” he said of the job fair. He walked out of the event with a stack of papers in hand and information about next steps for employment.
Another job candidate, Cassandra Metts, said she plans to return to the public school system after working in private schools. She says she feels called to work with students who may not have access to the resources of a private school.
Other candidates, like Charles Nwanegwo, came to the job fair looking for work that would offset the recent effects of inflation. The 66-year-old hopes to return to teaching part-time to supplement his pension check. The retired city schools teacher thought he could return to the classroom and put his 20 years of experience to good use.
Some candidates were completely new to teaching. Bryson McAdams, 24, works at FedEx and is finishing a fine arts degree at Bowie State University. He has no experience yet, but he hopes to enter the classroom and inspire students who look like him, a black man.
McAdams looked at the job fair for an opening in teaching fine arts, but instead learned of the possibility of being a long-term substitute in physical education. The opportunity would allow him to put his skills as a Bowie State football player to good use, and he wondered aloud: Maybe he could later transition into a school to teach art ?
The event drew more than 30 potential employees in the first two hours, as well as a visit from County Schools Superintendent Darryl Williams. He introduced changes to wages and removed some barriers to hiring – the school system now covers the cost of fingerprinting – to boost hiring across the system. Unionized county school teachers with a bachelor’s degree can start earning around $60,000 a year.
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Career fair administrators reported that applicants are often people making a career transition or returning to teaching after some time off.
Maryland educators who wanted to switch from one school system to another had until July 15 to notify their employer.
Some candidates said they were surprised that attendance at the job fair was not higher. And administrators also worried about their ability to screen enough applicants before another school snagged them.
“My job at the end of the day is to ensure that the students of Dundalk receive the best education,” said high school vice-principal Glenn Haas. “My job is to sell my school.”
As Roberts rose from the Lansdowne Middle School recruiting table, Robinson walked around the table and asked for a selfie with the special education candidate.
“I’m delighted with you, and I need you in this school. Give me a hug,” Robinson told Roberts before reminding him to be on the lookout for a phone call about next steps.
After the two kissed, Roberts parted ways with the fair without speaking to more schools.