Mariah Roberts had barely finished signing into the Baltimore County schools job fair before two assistant principals smiled wide and waved her toward their recruitment table.
They handed the prospective special educator a yellow lanyard and pens and launched into a screening interview with enthusiasm.
“I really like this candidate right here,” Lansdowne Middle School administrator Koneisha Robinson said to her colleague, loud enough for others nearby to hear.
County school-based staff are scheduled to return to work Aug. 22 amid widespread staffing shortages of educators, bus drivers and other essential staff. To help fill more than 400 vacancies reported at the beginning of the month, the school system has launched weekly recruitment events around the district to put candidates directly in front of hiring managers.
Roberts’ family pressed her for two years to apply to the county school system; she was a graduate of county schools and her mother worked there. She had previous experience in special education at a nonpublic school and decided to return to working with children following 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.
The staffing needs are great in Maryland public schools as the COVID-19 pandemic stretches on. For the past few years, teachers have dealt with issues, including health risks, discipline challenges and pressure from parents. During this same time frame, many teachers have switched jobs or left the field.
Mark Woodruff was working at the Institute of Notre Dame, a Catholic college preparatory school for girls in Baltimore City, when it abruptly closed in the early months of the pandemic. The county resident pivoted 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 program.
“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 is considering a return to the public school system after working at private schools. She said she felt 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 impacts of inflation. The 66-year-old hopes to return to teaching part-time to supplement his pension check. The retired city schools teacher figured he could return to the classroom and put his 20 years of experience to work once more.
Some candidates were new to teaching altogether. Bryson McAdams, 24, works at FedEx and is finishing a fine arts degree at Bowie State University. He doesn’t have any experience yet, but he hopes to enter the classroom and inspire students who look like him, a Black man.
McAdams searched the job fair for an opening in fine arts instruction, but learned instead about the chance to be a long-term substitute in physical education. The opportunity would allow him to put his skills as a Bowie State football player to use, and he wondered aloud: perhaps later he could transition within a school to teach art?
The event attracted more than 30 potential employees within the first two hours, as well as a visit from county schools Superintendent Darryl Williams. He has introduced changes in pay and removed some hiring barriers — the school system now covers cost of fingerprinting — to boost hiring across the system. Unionized county schools teachers with bachelor’s degrees can start out making about $60,000 annually.
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Administrators at the job fair reported candidates are often people who are making career transitions or coming back to teaching after some time off.
Maryland educators who wished to switch between school systems had until July 15 to give their employers notice.
Some candidates said they were surprised the job fair’s turnout wasn’t larger. And administrators similarly worried about their ability to scoop up enough candidates before another school snags them.
“My job at the end of the day is to ensure students at Dundalk get the best education,” said assistant high school principal Glenn Haas. “My job is to sell my school.”
As Roberts stood up from the Lansdowne Middle School recruitment table, Robinson walked around the table and asked for a selfie with the special education candidate.
“I’m excited about you, and I need you at this school. Give me a hug,” Robinson said to Roberts before reminding her to be on the lookout for a phone call about next steps.
After the two embraced, Roberts parted from the fair without speaking to any more schools.