Teacher shortage impact in Northeast Indiana

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FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – Sweeping reforms in Indiana’s education system during the last few years may be to blame for teacher shortages. The Indiana Department of Education said the number of teacher licenses issued by the state is down 63 percent.

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“It’s not a surprise to us. We’ve seen this coming. We talk regularly with the deans of the schools of education around the state, and they’ve seen a drop off for a while coming. I just think that the licensing issue that we’re seeing this year is reflected in that,” Superintendent for Southwest Allen County Schools Phil Downs said.

Downs is seeing fewer teachers apply in his district, but isn’t having any issues filling open positions.

“Some of it is young people coming out of school today are looking for kind of an urban setting. That’s kind of the trend for young people and I think cities like Fort Wayne and Indianapolis have an advantage in attracting candidates,” Downs said. “I think the shortage is probably going to show up at its worst sooner in more rural and remote areas of the state.”

Still, he thinks the shortage can be beneficial.

“I think people who will be going into education will be much more dedicated at this point,” Downs said. “I think people who are really called to the profession are still going into it. In many ways, I think it’s a great time to be going into education. There’s fewer people applying for jobs.”

Downs said it will take multiple entities working together to stop the shortages.

“There’s going to have some sort of a concerted effort on the part of the state as a whole- politicians, policy makers, the media, education schools in general to reinvigorate young people’s mind set or ideas of what a career in education can be and what the benefits are,” Downs said. “I think we’re blessed to have an incredibly large group of very talented, very motivated, very caring professionals who in spite of all the negative press feel strongly about what they do and want to help kids succeed. I think Indiana is very lucky that we have that. I think the evaluation system that we have in place is reflecting the caliber of people that we have in it. I really wish people would take advantage of using that as a selling point of why you should move to Indiana.”

Indiana issued 16,578 licenses to first-time teachers in the 2009-2010 school year. Four years later, that dropped to 6,174 for the 2013-2014 school year.

Universities like IPFW are also having issues. Enrollment in the education department has gone down 40 percent in the last five years. Officials think that’s partly due to higher standards like requiring a 3.0 GPA to graduate.

“Are we worried about it, yes, but at the same time, hopefully this is just part of a cycle and it’s going to go back up,” Chair of the Department of Educational Studies at IPFW Terri Swim said. “We know we are getting higher quality graduates.”

Swim said factors like state funding constraints and testing pressures are likely leading to the shortages.

“I think part of it has to do with all the reform that’s occurred over the last 5-7 years. That sent the message that teachers are not professionals. They don’t have a lot of control over their job. There are different laws that are telling them how long they have to do math, how long they have to do reading, and what they can consider reading. All of that plays into teachers feeling deskilled and like they’re not true professionals,” Swim said. “As the teacher, you often feel very ineffective. You don’t have time to teach, but you’re being evaluated based upon student performance that’s based upon not your best instruction because you were rushing or didn’t have enough time.”

Swim said the changes have made it harder to recruit teachers.

“On one hand, it’s really hard to honestly look at a college student and say this is where you need to be because you know that they can go into a lot of other professions where they will have a higher starting salary and where they will get raises each year,” Swim said. “We do it because no other professions are possible without teachers. It’s the most noble profession on the planet. It’s really important that we help students to understand you’re going to have a huge impact on the community in which you live by being a teacher. You’re going to change tomorrow by what you do today.”

Swim thinks the state needs to go directly to teachers in order to stop the shortages.

“I think that going to teachers and asking them what needs to change or be fixed is the best starting place that we could go to,” Swim said. “Treat them like the professionals that they are. They are highly-skilled, highly knowledgeable professionals that need to be treated as such.”

Even with the sharp decline in enrollment, education majors at IPFW say they’re still excited about making teaching a career.

“It’s definitely motivation,” incoming freshman Cody Beck said.

“I had kind of a hard time in school and I wanted to be a teacher that helped their kids out at home and get them interested in school,” incoming freshman Kady Betts said. “I still want to make a difference to all of my students.”

East Allen County Schools said it’s having no problems with teacher shortages. Fort Wayne Community said it’s noticed some shortages with specific areas like math, science, and special education, but no overall issues.

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