Indiana schools suffer from teacher shortage

School districts are starting the new school year with open teaching positions. (WISH Photo)
School districts are starting the new school year with open teaching positions. (WISH Photo)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — As many schools head back to class this week, schools are struggling to find enough teachers to fill the classrooms. 24-Hour News 8 spoke to districts all over Central Indiana, and the majority said finding teachers this year has been more difficult than ever.

Some districts are in such a bind, they’re being less choosy about what teachers they hire. Some schools are hiring teachers who have never gone through student teaching — meaning their first day at work, is their first day ever standing in front of a classroom.

“When you have more beginning teachers than veteran teachers, when you have a revolving door of those beginning teachers and the students can’t look forward and see stability in the hallways, it contributes to a sense of unrest and stability within the school. It’s just not healthy for the school environment at all,” said Indiana State Teachers Association President, Teresa Meredith.

Several schools are using substitute teachers until they fill open positions.

“It’s never quite the same. If they don’t have the teacher standing in front of them to be able to get out on a great start, and to be able to work through the curriculum from day one,” said Wayne Township Superintendent Jeff Butts.

This is the first year Wayne Township has ever started the school year with open teaching positions. The district is making classes bigger, asking teachers to take on extra periods and bringing back teachers from retirement.

“It’s really a challenge. We’re asking our teachers to do more and more in the classrooms and we’re asking them to serve their children in much different ways,” said Butts, “I’ve had more conversations with other superintendents this summer than I ever had before, in talking about them trying to help us fill our positions and helping them fill their positions,” said Butts.

Schools all over Indiana are scrambling to find teachers, especially for STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — and special education classes. Superintendents said the applicants just aren’t there. Schools of education around Central Indiana report fewer students choosing to become teachers.

“There have been a reduction in enrollments — not only at IUPUI, but in all schools of education across the state and nationally,” said Pat Rogan, Executive Associate Dean of the Indiana University School of Education at IUPUI.

Numbers from the State Department of Education show the drop in new teachers. Since 2009, the number of new teachers receiving a license has dropped by about 20 percent. Some experts expect the numbers to drop even lower this year.

People who have received licenses:

  • 2009-2010: 5,599
  • 2010-2011: 5,902
  • 2011-2012: 5,458
  • 2012-2013: 4,613
  • 2013-2014: 4,565

“This is a looming, significant issue facing our state as well as others moving forward. If we don’t get it remedied, our world class educational system is in real jeopardy,” said J.T. Coopman, executive director of the Indiana Association of Public School Superintendents.

“I think this is just the tip if we don’t do something to really demonstrate that we do value the work that teachers do as a state,” said Meredith.

Almost every educator 24-Hour News 8 spoke with said the shortage comes down to respect for teachers and the profession.

“I think that it started when there was efforts to de-professionalize teacher education by reducing the standards and qualifications for becoming a teacher. Partnered with the imposition of high stakes testing, extraordinary high numbers of standardized testing, and teachers being held accountable for the test scores of their students. That too is layered with a reduction in collective bargaining, and reduction in the ladder — the pay ladder — for teachers,” said Rogan.

Education has been at the center of controversy at the statehouse. There have been fights over funding, standardized testing and the attempt to strip State Superintendent Glenda Ritz of her power.

“Who can say that the state actually respects the profession? That’s what we need to do. Respect the profession again. Not just in communities and words, but in actual actions that start at the top with the governor,” said Meredith.

“It’s unfortunate that teachers have suffered the politics of the past decade. Superintendent Ritz is working to improve the environment for teachers in the classroom and to find new ways to attract and retain teachers in our state. That is why Superintendent Ritz recently formed a Blue Ribbon Teacher Commission to restore respect and to inform the Department’s 2016 legislative agenda to make sure that Hoosier students continue to be taught by the most qualified and best trained educators — that is what our students and families deserve.” said Indiana Department of Education Spokeswoman Samantha Hart.

Governor Mike Pence said he’s proud of what he and lawmakers did for teachers in the last legislative session.

“I am pleased that in this last session of the general assembly we made a historic commitment to traditional education. We expanded opportunities through charter schools and our voucher program. We also provided new resources for bonuses for teachers, and to help teachers in the classroom with the cost of supplies that they might otherwise have to incur on their own,” said Pence.

Now, two republican lawmakers have called for a study to find out what’s behind the teacher shortage. Many teachers said they already know the answer.

“The legislators need to think about the laws that they pass that have created the sense among a new generation that ‘maybe I don’t want to choose that profession’,” said Meredith.

“What we want to do is better understand if some of these early numbers of declining participation represent a trend. I don’t want to prejudge the source of that,” said Pence.

In the meantime, districts like Wayne Township are working to solve the problem themselves.

“Getting the positive word out, and telling people what actually happens in the classroom, and letting people know that education is a tremendously rewarding profession,” said Butts.

Wayne Township is working on a marketing campaign in an attempt to bring in more applicants. It’s also been very active on social media, to promote the good that happens inside the schools.

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