OPELOUSAS — Jennifer Olson was one of about 100 prospective teachers who spent several hours Monday moving among St. Landry Parish high school principals, trading introductions and interviewing for a job.
Central office administrators and principals from the school system’s 37 schools were working at the Resource Center and Central Office Complex to welcome Olson and other applicants whom they hope will help curtail a parishwide teacher shortage caused by retirements and educators leaving St. Landry classrooms to teach elsewhere.
The district had as many as 21 teaching slots that at various times last year were filled with substitutes, School Board Finance Committee Chairman Raymond Cassimere has said.
Personnel Director Matthew Scruggins said Monday he doesn’t know exactly how many teaching positions were unoccupied last year.
“I don’t know if we had a critical shortage of teachers, but anytime there’s not a teacher in a classroom, it’s critical,” Scruggins said in an interview.
Olson, a McNeese State mathematics graduate, said she decided to become a high school teacher after serving as a college teaching assistant.
“I realized I enjoyed teaching students and being with them in the classroom,” said Olson, who is from Lake Charles.
Olson, who also attended a recent job fair in Calcasieu Parish, said she preferred the St. Landry job fair arrangement better. “It was more like a mini interview,” she said.
Most of those seeking teaching jobs on Monday were what Eunice High Principal Mitchell Fontenot described as “young and bright-eyed.”
Although state legislators are discussing ways of luring retired teachers back into the classrooms with more-lucrative pay arrangements, the principals said only a few veterans were searching for jobs on Monday.
“Most of the ones I’m seeing have a (college) degree and now want to get into teaching. The state is making that easier through the I-Teach program, in which someone who isn’t yet certified can teach for six months and then get certified if they pass parts of the Praxis,” Grand Prairie Elementary Principal Robert Fontenot said.
Fontenot said his list of 12 interviews this year tripled the number he conducted at a teacher job fair in 2014.
“Last year we had a lot of older people in here looking for jobs. This year, it’s a lot different. I would say it’s more of a mix, with young outnumbering,” Fontenot said.
Port Barre Elementary Principal Gabe Sonnier said most of the people he interviewed are recent graduates.
“Only one of them had more than five years out of college. If I had to describe the ones I talked to, I would say they were all young, energetic and eager to teach,” Sonnier said.
Fontenot said he also saw some interest from former oil field employees.
“I had one guy who was in transportation in the oil field. He taught years ago and he told me he was happiest when he was teaching,” said Fontenot.
Saul Hernandez, who taught physics previously in Lafayette Parish, said he got out of teaching briefly to operate an education-based website. He said he wants to return to teaching and has interviewed in several parishes.
Amos Graham, a 26-year teaching veteran who has taught in several parishes, said he wants to be rehired to teach math in order to sustain his retirement pension.
Port Barre High Principal William Duplechain said he is especially looking for English teachers.
“In the past it’s always been either match or science. Now (the shortage) seems to be ELA’s (English-language arts). I guess maybe some of that has to do with language arts being one of the subjects affected by Common Core,” said Duplechain.