HELP WANTED: State’s declining teacher talent pool makes hiring more difficult

Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. officials are concerned about the declining number of teaching applicants seen across the state and country as Indiana schools seek to fill more than 2,500 teacher job vacancies before this fall.

The smaller pool of applicants, which is not unique to Bartholomew County, can largely be attributed to a decades-long trend of fewer people enrolling and completing education degrees and a growing number of teachers seeking employment in other fields, said Gina Pleak, BCSC’s assistant superintendent of human resources.

Despite the decline, BCSC officials say the school corporation is still attracting experienced teachers to apply. However, they say the number of applicants who throw their hats in the ring has drastically dropped compared to years past.

“Our pool of candidates is not deep and it’s not diverse. That’s where the concern comes from,” Pleak said. “… Over 25 years ago, when I was applying for a teaching job, I think there were probably over 100 candidates for a position. We are at the point now it’s probably less than 10 — if we get that. It’s about five, probably, for an open position.”

“The shallow pool, I believe, is because less people are going into education and are graduating with a teaching degree,” Pleak said. “If you talk to universities, they will likely tell you that the number of education students entering the program and graduating from it in four years is decreasing. It’s on the decline. Then you have some people that do graduate but end up going into a different career and not teaching.”

The concerns of BCSC officials mirrors those of school administrators across the state and country, who worry that teacher shortages could become more widespread in the coming years due to declining enrollment at teaching colleges and surveys of teachers about their future plans, The Associated Press reported.

The number of bachelor’s degrees in education conferred by postsecondary institutions in the United States declined about 21% from the 2005-06 school year to the 2019-20 school year and nearly 52% since the 1970-71 school year, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

In addition, just a fraction of college graduates in Indiana with an education degree wind up becoming teachers, according to a 2021 study by the Institution of Education Sciences.

The concerns from officials come as Indiana schools try to fill thousands of teacher vacancies across the state, according to the Indiana Department of Education’s online job board.

As of Thursday afternoon, BCSC had 33 openings for teaching positions, Pleak said. The openings amount to about 4% of the school corporation’s 762 teachers when the school corporation is fully staffed.

The openings included high school math and social studies teachers, middle school English language arts and science teachers, a teacher for students with visual impairments, as well as a few C4 teachers, according to the Indiana Department of Education’s online job board.

There also were openings for teachers at L.F. Smith Elementary School, W.D. Richards Elementary School, Taylorsville Elementary School and Lillian Schmitt Elementary School, according to the job board.

In addition, BCSC had openings for several school counselors, as well as vacancies for a speech therapist, multi-cultural coordinator and a school psychologist.

“For as large of a corporation that we’re in, that’s why 33 open positions right now don’t scare me, when you’re talking about 2,500 open positions across the state of Indiana,” Pleak said.

BCSC is always looking for creative approaches to attract teachers.

“There are a lot of school corporations that make it the goal by the first day of school to be 90% staffed,” Pleak said. “The larger school corporations, by the first day of school, they want to be 90% staffed. So, if you look at our statistics and our percentages, we’re OK. It’s just wanting the best teachers ever and wanting the best for our students. We want to be 100% staffed. We’re at about 96% staffed right now.”

“This all sounds doomsday or whatever, but I do want to make clear this point … we’re really attracting teachers with experience to apply at BCSC,” Pleak added. “…We are hiring some right out of college, but many of our positions, these people have years of experience.”