Finding teachers: Local school corporation officials discuss teaching candidate shortage

Local schools have filled most of their teaching spots, but officials continue to have concern about a narrowing field of candidates.

The Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. had five open teaching positions as of Sept. 6, said Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Gina Pleak.

While she appreciates that BCSC has so many positions filled — which she attributed to the recent referendum — the school corporation is seeing “fewer and fewer” applicants for these positions, she said. She estimated that when she first became a teacher, there were probably 80 applicants for an elementary school teaching position. Nowadays, she said, they would be lucky to get 10.

“I think there’s no secret, if you pay attention to the news across the country and our state, we are facing — a lot of people don’t say a teacher shortage because there’s plenty of people licensed, but people choosing to get in the profession and stay in the profession is quite a challenge,” she said. “…We are not immune to it.”

The Flat Rock-Hawcreek School Corp. has no teaching positions open at present, according to Superintendent Shawn Price.

Still, he said there is “most definitely a teacher shortage,” with the field of candidates being significantly smaller than in the past. Most of Flat Rock-Hawcreek’s teachers do not live within the district, which creates the possibility that they may seek positions elsewhere.

“We will hire a new teacher and inevitably have some movement over the summer,” he said. “And right before school starts, we’ve had to adjust and hire positions we thought we had filled, hire them again before the school year started.”

Still, he feels that the school corporation does a good job with teacher retention thanks to its team approach and family atmosphere and added that Flat Rock-Hawcreek tries to do its hiring early instead of waiting for summer.

“I do think we, relatively, have a small number of teachers that do choose to leave,” said Price. “But for whatever reason — if it’s retirement or moving on to something else — we always have a certain number of new teachers each year, coming in. And that’s stayed pretty consistent.”

In discussing the challenges of hiring teachers, Pleak noted that there are fewer people enrolling in education courses at the college level. According to Education Week, the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE) reported that between the 2008-09 and 2018-19 school years, the number of individuals completing teacher-education programs decreased by almost one-third. Traditional teacher-preparation programs in particular saw a 35% drop.

Additionally, the AACTE surveyed its members in the fall of both 2020 and 2021 and found that, for both years, about 20% of schools reported a decline in new undergraduate enrollment of 11% or more.

“It took us years to get to the place where we are now, and of course the pandemic has made the situation worse,” said Jacqueline King, an independent consultant and a co-author of the AACTE’s report. “There’s no magic bullet that’s going to turn this situation around.”

In light of the challenges, schools have to pursue creative solutions, said Pleak. In BCSC’s case, the school corporation has launched a few different initiatives in hopes of recruiting and licensing individuals who are new to the field.

There are currently seven participants in BCSC’s Pathway to Teacher Licensure Program, which was introduced in 2021. Through the program, these “paraeducators” work as teaching assistants while earning their bachelor’s degree in education from St. Mary-of-the Woods via online learning. The school corporation covers tuition and textbook fees, provided that participants maintain a certain GPA, “meet support staff evaluation goals,” and remain with the school corporation until their degree is complete.

Upon graduating and receiving their licenses, participants will be guaranteed a teaching position and are expected to commit to remaining with BCSC for two years.

“They’ve started their second year of college and working full-time for us,” said Pleak. “And they have bonded very well, and they’re doing very well at their placements at the schools, so we are really proud of them.”

The school corporation also recently launched a Transition to Teaching Pathway Paraeducators initiative. This is a similar program wherein BCSC pays for participants who already have a bachelor’s degree to complete an online Transition to Teaching program through St. Mary’s of the Woods. These individuals also work as instructional assistants within BCSC.

Ten individuals have been hired for this program and have started working at BCSC schools, said Pleak. They will begin their online coursework in October.

Additionally, about 20 teachers have applied for BCSC’s new Transition to Teaching Reimbursement Program. This initiative is aimed at helping teachers on short-term permits complete transitional programs and gain full licensure.

In addition to launching programs such as these, Pleak added that it is important to show appreciation for the career path of teaching.

“We need to find ways to encourage students in high school to pursue this as a profession,” she said. “We need to elevate the profession and give it the respect that it deserves. … As they always say, this is the profession that creates all other professions.”