By Jeannie Ohm Correspondent
NBC News
updated 3/23/2004 7:47:04 PM ET 2004-03-24T00:47:04

Nicole Manry has ended up where she started — and it's exactly where she wanted to be. Sixteen years ago she was the one raising her hand at Pharr Elementary school in Gwinnett County, Ga., outside Atlanta.  But today Manry is at the head of the class — a first-year teacher, “It’s always been a dream for me to come back to Pharr.”

Even in a sluggish job market, the education sector has been a bright spot. While the employment rate in the last three years grew only 0.6 percent, education-related jobs increased by 8 percent.

“We do have a large number of vacancies to fill,” said Frances Davis, chief of human resources for the Gwinnett County schools.

Gwinnett County school officials expect 6,000 new students.  They’ve built nine more schools and plan to hire 1,100 new teachers.  Officials have held job fairs and even traveled to India to recruit teachers.  “We’ve got to go where we have to, to find those teachers,” Davis added.

Teachers are in high demand in almost every region, especially fast-growing states.  Nevada’s Clarke County has 2,000 openings, Texas’ Houston school district needs 900 teachers, and in North Carolina, Wake County has 1,300 openings.

“We have a big problem with finding enough special education teachers, bilingual teachers, math and science teachers,” said John Mitchell, deputy director of the American Federation of Teachers.

Experts say 2 million new teachers will be needed nationwide in the next decade.

Although there are plenty of openings, new federal legislation requires highly qualified teachers in the classroom, which makes it tougher to fill the jobs.

“We’re finding a lot of people applying who can’t meet the qualifications,” Mitchell added.

Many school districts are looking at alternative certification programs to help get more teachers hired.

For Manry, teaching is more than a job, “Its constant praise all day long — hugs and smiles, ‘we love you’ — so it’s wonderful.”

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