ISU survey: Indiana teacher shortage continues

Terry McDaniel, ISU professor in the department of educational leadership

TERRE HAUTE — Indiana’s teacher shortage continues, according to an Indiana State University annual survey of Hoosier school superintendents.

The survey conducted by Terry McDaniel, ISU professor in the department of educational leadership, shows 92% of participating districts reporting a teacher shortage in 2019, up slightly from 91% in 2018.

“The same patterns have held true for the past five years,” McDaniel said. “In conversations with superintendents, they continue to share the difficulties of finding quality teachers in the shortage areas,” especially in special education, [66% reporting shortages]; science [60%] and math, [60%].

The survey is based on 115 districts responding, down from prior years due to problems in administering the survey, McDaniel said. “They are still good, representative numbers.”

The shortage has gotten somewhat worse at the elementary level, with 32% of respondents reporting shortages, compared to 24% last year.

Sixty-four percent reported shortages of three or more teachers, with 9% having a shortage of six or more teachers.

Nine-four percent reported applying for emergency permits, and 52% reported employing teachers outside their licensed areas. Twenty-eight percent reported using full-time substitute teachers.

In Indiana, many young teachers are leaving the profession within the first five years, and many veteran teachers with more than 20 years of experience are leaving as well, McDaniel said.

Superintendents and principals tell him that even when they find highly qualified candidates, “It may not be the best teacher. The pool [of applicants] is so slim, that finding a really good teacher may be difficult,” he said.

For newer teachers who leave the profession, it’s typically for a combination of reasons, but one of the often-cited is because they can’t support a family on the salary they are making, he said. Because Indiana did away with the salary schedule, it’s difficult for new teachers to get ahead financially.

Newer teachers also have concerns about student discipline as well as high stakes testing and other accountability requirements. In some cases, “They don’t feel they are being supported well,” McDaniel said.

Induction programs may not be strong enough to meet the needs of young teachers, who face problems they didn’t know they would encounter. Also, principals may not have sufficient time to spend with those newer teachers, he said.

Another reason might be that newer teachers may not feel comfortable in the community where they are teaching.

So, what are some ways to attract and keep teachers? Improving salaries and making them more competitive with other professions would be viewed by many as a priority.

Other tools, McDaniel said, include improved marketing strategies; providing stronger teacher support through improved principal preparation programs; conducting exit interviews with those leaving the district; and creating early educational career opportunities such as cadet teaching programs in the high schools and career centers.

McDaniel believes there are other things that can be done to recruit, and keep, new teachers. One might involve a community effort, in which businesses provide them with various incentives and discounts, and realtors help them find housing.

New teachers also need social connections, and districts could facilitate memberships in various organizations and look for opportunities to group young teachers together.

The Vigo County School Corp. is very aware of the state and national teacher shortage. Last year, it had 42 unfilled teaching positions and had to use long-term substitutes as a result.

This year, the district still has 25 unfilled positions and is using long-term subs, which is an improvement over last year. Some of those substitutes have their teaching degrees but are still working on licensure, said Bill Riley, VCSC director of communications.

The most challenging areas include special education, technology, math and science, he said.

The district made several efforts to recruit new teachers and it started the interview process earlier this year, in March and April. It also sent letters to 80 historically black colleges and universities; attended two job fairs and it is using a program called Handshake to communicate with career centers at colleges across the Midwest.

Similar efforts will take place in hiring for the 2020-21 school year, Riley said. “We plan to start even earlier this year.”

Among the challenges, he has said, are that area colleges have fewer education graduates. Also, VCSC starting pay isn’t competitive with neighboring school districts or areas of growth in Indiana. Also, for experienced teachers new to the district, VCSC does not compensate them for their years of experience; neighboring districts do.

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