‘Indiana’s war on teachers is winning’: Here’s what superintendents say is causing teacher shortages

In a survey this year, Indiana State University researchers asked Indiana school superintendents if they faced a teacher shortage — and how bad the problem was.

“It’s killing us,” one respondent wrote.

“This situation is getting worse each year,” another said. “Scares me!”

“Indiana’s war on teachers is winning,” a superintendent commented.

Out of the 220 districts that responded to the survey, 91 percent reported experiencing a teacher shortage, with most feeling the pinch in science, math, and special education.

Eighty-five percent of the surveyed districts applied for emergency permits for people who don’t have teaching licenses, or educators who are hired to teach subjects outside their licensure.

Superintendents overwhelmingly said it was difficult to find qualified job candidates, and many mentioned high teacher turnover rates. They often pointed to low pay as the cause, competing against other higher-paying districts or the private sector.

School districts that had better luck often said they started the hiring process early, or they could offer higher salaries.

Here are a selection of administrators’ comments from the survey, lightly edited for clarity and length, about why they believe there is a teacher shortage and how they think the state could fix it.

Money matters

  • “Pay teachers more and offer better benefits. Respect the profession.”
  • “Overworked. Little or no pay raises in the past and none expected in the future.”
  • “The burnout rate increases because teachers are covering higher caseloads because of the shortage. Even when provided with an annual increase, overall morale of teachers in the state is low.”
  • “This is the only profession I am aware of that experience and added degrees inhibit you from moving forward. Once you get a job, you better stay or you will be overqualified and not affordable!”
  • “The quality of applicants is quite low. We have replaced the same position 3 times since school started. People keep jumping around for higher pay.”
  • “There has been more competition for teachers this year. We are a small, rural school district and we had to replace 14 teachers this year. Larger nearby corporations were able to offer more money to several of our folks and they moved on. It’s been a very difficult summer.”

Feeling the pinch

  • “While we often have 4-5 applications for an open position, we often find that only 1 or 2 of the candidates are someone that we would extend an employment offer. Just because schools have some applicants does not mean the applicants are qualified or good for students.”
  • “The number of applicants for positions are very few! We had to ask people to apply that are not teachers.”
  • “Special education teachers are fleeing to the general education classroom because of the demands required being a special education teacher. We will be using more financial incentives to attract teachers back to special education.”
  • “It is real! We are interviewing candidates who have been out of school several years and still don’t have their first job. In the past we would have not interviewed these candidates because we know they have problems if not already hired.”
  • “The shortage seems to be spreading. For the first time in school history, we have placed elementary teachers on emergency licenses due to lack of quality applicants.”
  • “The shortage has led to unprofessional behavior exhibited by current teachers (vacating contracts without notice and after the school year has begun) and school districts and their highest level of leadership (making employment offer to teachers currently teaching under contract and do so without contacting the current employer for a reference).”
  • “Although the teacher shortage has existed for some of our more difficult areas (special education, math, science) this was the first year we experienced challenges in both social studies and elementary. We are a high performing and “desirable” district to live and work. I cannot imagine the difficulties other districts that serve more challenging populations and have experienced more difficult financial times are experiencing.”
  • “Essentially, we were EXTREMELY lucky to find the folks we have. We had 1 good candidate for each area, but literally nobody else worth serious consideration.”

Getting creative

  • “We typically have to steal people from other schools. This practice is also used against us quite often.”
  • “We are using Ivy Tech to teach our Spanish classes by webcam.”
  • “There are few applicants for the positions that we had open this year. Had to place 4 candidates on emergency permits, transition to teaching permits, and workplace specialist licenses. Most of the people told us that the cost of college versus the beginning salary is not worth majoring in that field.”

Changing demands

  • “The demands on teachers due to testing accountability makes it not worth teaching — takes the love and passion out of education.”
  • “There is absolutely no incentive to stay in teaching or for that matter to pursue a degree in education. The pay is ridiculous. The demands are excessive. Teachers don’t really teach anymore, just test and retest. All the data-driven requirements are not successful in helping a student learn. Yes, we should have some testing but the sheer amount is ridiculous. I think we should go back to letting teachers teach. Let them be the professionals they were hired to be. ”
  • “There is a disconnect between what the state requires and what pre-service teachers are taught.”

The political impact

  • “Until we have full support from legislators to emphasize the importance that a teacher plays, we will struggle. This needs to come with increased funding for better pay and benefits, but also with public support of the profession.”
  • “We are teachers because we care about our students, but many of the laws being made are not done by those who have been educators themselves. An idea can look good in theory, but not fit in the classroom as you may think. Educating our children is our future, and our state needs to take a hard look at how we can take a new approach, starting with Kindergarten.”
  • “I believe the teacher shortage is due to the climate of education and the lack of government support as well as district support for teachers. Teachers have not been listened to or given the respect necessary to want to pursue careers. In our particular district, the constant negativity has caused a rift between campuses, and the negativity has created a hostile climate in which to work.”
  • “It is clear that the efforts of Indiana’s General Assembly to devalue education as a profession has had a significant impact upon the teacher shortage.”

Read more from Chalkbeat: 

Raising teacher pay likely to be at the forefront for Indiana lawmakers and advocates in 2019

Indiana schools might struggle to hire teachers, but there’s no shortage of ways to become one

Indiana spent years overhauling education. Did teaching get left behind?