Local News

School cutbacks leave teaching fellows in bind

Posted May 8, 2009 6:43 p.m. EDT
Updated May 8, 2009 6:50 p.m. EDT

— As cash-strapped school districts across North Carolina cut positions and cancel job fairs, participants in the North Carolina Teaching Fellows Program face the grim prospect of having to repay their partial college scholarships.

The program pays $26,000 toward the cost of college for students who agree to teach for four years in a public or U.S. government school in North Carolina. Those who don't fulfill their teaching obligation within seven years of graduation must repay a prorated portion of the scholarship with interest.

"Everyone is very apprehensive," said Lauryn Dupre, a new Meredith College graduate who has had no luck finding a teaching job. "I used to be picky, but now, if it's a classroom with a door and has kids, I'll be there.

"I just want to make students love school and love learning," she said.

Kelly Bradshaw, another teaching fellow from Meredith, said she has no idea how she would repay the scholarship if she can't find a teaching job.

"It definitely is in my mind," Bradshaw said. "Going into the teaching profession, you think, 'Wow, job security,' and right now, it's not that way."

In addition to the 355 Teaching Fellows Program participants graduating this spring, more than 3,500 are trying to complete their four-year teaching obligation statewide. Program administrator Jo Ann Norris said many of them have lost their jobs and are anxious about having to repay part of their debt.

"I have had many phone calls from those students, e-mails from students and parents concerned," Norris said.

The commission that oversees the Teaching Fellows Program has some flexibility on extending the seven-year deadline on a case-by-case basis, she said.

Norris said she has advised teaching fellows to get on lists of substitute teachers for various school districts, to continue looking for full-time classroom jobs and to be willing to work in districts farther away from where they live. She said some teachers will be hired back next school year.

"Hang on. Don't panic," she said.