Indiana teacher shortage is rocking some schools
Matt Shockley needs two math teachers and has no candidates.
Shockley is principal of Avon High School, located 14 miles west of downtown Indianapolis. Avon students are returning to school at the end of this month. If Shockley can’t fill those positions, class sizes could increase or students could end up with a long-term replacement who may not be qualified to teach the material.
“It’s the toughest hiring climate I’ve had in my 18 years as a manager,” Shockley said. “It was very difficult.”
As of July 7, more than 2,300 teaching positions were posted on the Indiana Department of Education‘s new online job site.
Summer is usually a busy hiring season for schools. And it’s unclear whether those vacancies represent a worsening teacher shortage, as the IDOE does not keep comparable data for previous years, according to agency spokeswoman Holly Lawson. Lawson wrote in an email that IDOE moved from its old job bank to a new platform in March this year. Lawson wrote that nearly every school corporation in the state — and many charter and non-public schools — are using the new bulletin board to post jobs in real time, which was not possible with their previous system. .
This means that “comparing offers on the new supply and demand market to offers on the previous job board is like comparing apples to oranges,” Lawson wrote.
Going forward, she wrote that the state plans to use this new system to glean information about the educator pipeline, including the geographic and subject areas with the greatest need for teachers.
Facing a shortage of qualified candidates
But principals like Shockley urgently need teachers and support staff. Shockley said he has hired 24 teachers so far this year – a higher number than in previous years due to the loss of employees to retirement, job stress or other reasons. He said the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on students and teachers have pushed some educators off the field.
“I had relatively new teachers who had been in the teaching business for two or three years who were just like, ‘You know what, I can’t do this. It’s just been way too difficult over the past two years with the stress of COVID,” Shockley said.
Shockley said the combination of teacher retirements and departures, along with a shallow applicant pool, means districts are competing for teachers who are already in the field.
“It was really about stealing from each other and hiring each other. That’s what we’ve done this season,” Shockley said.
Indiana also lags its neighboring states in average teacher salary, according to data from the National Education Association, an education union. Indiana’s average teacher salary was about $53,000 in the 2020-21 school year, compared to nearly $71,000 for Illinois teachers, about $64,000 for Michigan teachers and $54,000 for Kentucky teachers.
Further, Shockley said that a growing distrust of teachers and the education system, as evidenced by proposed curriculum bills and other laws aimed at controlling what can and cannot cannot be told in the classroom, has prompted some to seek careers outside of education.
To help deal with the shortage of applicants, Shockley said the district has relied more on emergency permits; these are temporary degrees that allow people who are not authorized to teach a certain subject. They are used when schools cannot find a qualified teacher for the job. Emergency permit holders must have a bachelor’s degree and be working towards obtaining a license in this field.
Statewide, the use of emergency permits increased by approximately 58% between 2016 and 2021.
In the 2020-2021 school year, nearly a quarter of all emergency permits issued were for light intervention – a special education teaching position. The state banned the use of emergency permits for special education teachers starting this summer because the practice violates federal law. The second-highest category for emergency permits this school year was elementary generalist, followed by math and language arts.
“I’m very concerned about our ability to attract and hire the best and brightest in education,” Shockley said. “We just can’t find those candidates right now. And I’m concerned about our ability to pursue programs in areas where we may not be able to find qualified people to fill those positions.
A shortage of support staff
Lisa Soto Kile, director of human resources at the Penn-Harris-Madison School Corporation, sees fewer students enrolled in teacher preparation programs and fewer applying for teaching jobs than a decade ago.
Soto Kile said the district, located between South Bend and Elkhart in northern Indiana, was lucky; they were able to replace the 65 staff members who retired after the 2020-21 school year and add additional positions to help students recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. This year, 55 teachers retired.
Soto Kile said the shortage in his district is most acute for hourly workers, such as teacher aides for students with disabilities, food service workers, caretakers and bus drivers. In total, she said they had 35 vacancies across all support staff categories.
She said the shortage has worsened in recent years and the district has devoted more resources to recruiting.
“You can drive near our schools and in our community, and you can see buses with banners and such. We have brands that are recruiting and we use social media to attract potential employees,” said Soto Kile. “We work with two organizations that assist us in our recruiting efforts.”
Shockley, the principal of Avon High School, said he’s also been struggling to find enough support staff, including secretaries, teaching assistants, special education teacher’s aides, classroom aides. study and other non-certified positions that support school operations.
“If we are unable to fill these positions, we will have to find other ways to use the people we have to take care of these day-to-day operations and needs,” Shockley said. “And it’s going to be harder without the people in those very important support roles. If we don’t have them, our schools won’t run very well on a day-to-day basis and won’t be as welcoming to children and families”
A long-term and immediate problem
Tim McRoberts, associate executive director of the Indiana Association of School Principals, said he’s heard from administrators that shortages of support staff and certified staff are especially severe in rural areas of the state.
“I think that’s something we have to be very concerned about,” he said.
McRoberts said the narrative around teaching needs to change to make it a more attractive career.
“We have to be creative in what we do to bring young people into the field of education,” he said.
This could include recruiting high school students and offering benefits such as free tuition in exchange for several years of teaching service.
McRoberts said the field must also seek immediate solutions, such as offering financial incentives to entice teachers who have left to return to the field. Although the ubiquity of emergency permits and a new law allowing auxiliary teacher permits raise concerns, he said administrators need licensing flexibility to staff schools.
“They have to find people, you know, to get into those classrooms,” McRoberts said. “So this is an immediate concern and problem. [And] it’s a long-term problem that we have to solve.