In the last year, Normal Park Elementary School principal Jill Levine has learned to get a little nervous whenever a teaching position opens at the school.
As soon as it's posted, she knows what to expect: an e-mail inbox jammed with hundreds of inquiries, her telephone voicemail light blinking with too many messages to return.
The one recently available teaching job at Normal Park has already received 150 applicants, she said, and the pile grows every day.
Staff photo by Dan Henry/Chattanooga Times Free Press - Rossville Elementary School kindergarden teachers Jamie Henton, left, and Candy Britton pack up their room before beginning summer break Wednesday afternoon. Summer staff working for the Walker County School system will be on a four-day, 10-hour, work week this summer which is structured to save the county money.
"It's to the point where it is hard to keep up with it," Ms. Levine said. "You wouldn't believe the amount of time we spend interviewing," she said. "It is very competitive."
Teaching positions in Tennessee and Georgia have become highly coveted in recent years. The number of classroom spots in cash-poor school districts continues to shrink, but interest in education jobs is stratospheric.
Hundreds of laid-off teachers in the region are competing with experienced out-of-work teachers from across the country. And swarms of college graduates, many of whom returned to school to retrain as teachers in the middle of the recession, are in the hunt, too.
Hamilton County school officials say they are awash in applications for the nearly 70 openings for certified staff.
But that number is down from 2009, they said. About 40 percent fewer teachers took retirement or resigned this year than last, officials said. That's partly because the district last year offered a budget-saving early retirement option to longtime employees, documents show.
In Georgia, state officials are hosting workshops for desperate, out-of-work teachers. They intend to point them to new careers or send them back to college to learn a new educational specialty or for retraining.
The dynamic of having a glut of candidates for fewer available jobs has reversed the long-standing trend of Tennessee educators leaving to teach in better-paying Georgia schools.
"We aren't having people leave to go to Georgia anymore," said Connie Atkins, assistant superintendent for human resources at Hamilton County Schools.
When City Park Elementary School in Dalton, Ga., was hit with layoffs last year, kindergarten teaching assistant Brittany Hall said she was one of many staff, once excited about teaching in Georgia, thrown into uncertainty about staying.
She applied to 15 schools, including many in Hamilton County where she lives, and was told every position had more than 100 applicants.
"I finished graduate school with a master's in education, and there was nothing," she said. "It was a panicked desperation because we all know the state of education right now. There just aren't jobs."
After months of filing résumés, Ms. Hall landed a job at Clifton Hills Elementary School as a kindergarten teacher, but state officials say many teaching candidates aren't so lucky.
More than 350 teachers were turned out of schools in Dalton and Whitfield and Murray counties this year. They joined thousands of Georgia teachers whose jobs have been eliminated as schools absorb $3 billion in statewide K-12 budget cuts over the last eight years.
"Nothing like it has ever occurred," said Georgia Commissioner of Labor Michael Thurmond.
FOR JOBLESS TEACHERS
* What: Workshops for laid-off teachers hosted by the Georgia Department of Labor
* Where: NorthWest & Georgia Trade and Convention Center, 211 Dug Gap Battle Road, Dalton, Ga.
* When: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday and June 12
Source: Georgia Department of Labor
"We have to recommit ourselves to our education system. ... When we see serious cuts like (this) it raises serious questions about the quality of our system moving forward."
Officials in Hamilton County Schools, who passed the system's budget on Wednesday, are also talking about the future of teaching jobs. Board members voted to cut a net of 5.5 teaching positions, but it is unclear how many people may actually lose their jobs.
Still, Ms. Levine said she and many principals hope veteran teachers either laid off or looking for a more-stable school environment will stay in education.
She gets a lot of applicants with education training who don't seem as if they would know what to do in front of a room full of actual students, she said.
"I may find 15 people with any teaching experience," she said. "A lot of times people come in and use educational lingo, but they don't get below the surface. I have so many applicants that just getting through and finding good ones is tough."
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Joan Garrett McClane has been a staff writer for the Times Free Press since August 2007. Before becoming a general assignment writer for the paper, she wrote about business, higher education and the court systems. She grew up the oldest of five sisters near Birmingham, Ala., and graduated with a master's and bachelor's degrees in journalism from the University of Alabama. Before landing her first full-time job as a reporter at the Times Free Press, ...