Too many teachers are entering classrooms without the right training to meet kids needs, say a group of 24 educators who’ve taken a deep look at their profession.

The educators are fellows from the Indianapolis chapter of Teach Plus, a national organization that trains teachers to be policy advocates in seven states. They’ve spent the last year exploring how better training and support could help keep teachers in their profession longer and planned to present their findings at an event tonight where they present their research projects.

Among their recommendations:

  • Teachers need to spend more time in a classroom before they begin in their jobs;
  • They need more practice working with students who have special needs and those who for whom English is not their first language; and,
  • They need mentorship from senior teachers once they start in a classroom.

The focus on how to keep teachers in the classroom comes as some Indiana school districts report difficulty recruiting and retaining teachers. The shortage led state Superintendent Glenda Ritz to appointed a committee that last year recommended teachers get more time actually teaching in schools before earning their teacher certifications. The legislature also passed a bill to support teacher mentors in 2016.

The Teach Plus fellows say they’ve looked into ways to implement their recommendations including new federal rules that could make it easier for Indiana districts to get government funding for teacher mentors or for a residency program that allows teachers a longer time in the classroom before they finish their education.

Another idea that wouldn’t necessarily require extra funding would be for districts and colleges to partner to let prospective teachers work as substitutes in schools that have difficulty filling temporary positions. That way, teaching students get the practice they need and schools can have more qualified substitutes without having to pay more.

“After I graduated I didn’t teach right away, I substitute-taught for six months to figure out what schools I liked and what I didn’t like,” said one second-year teacher interviewed for the research project. “Until you’re in the situation you don’t know how you’ll handle it. Substitute teaching made me resilient and gave me on-the-job training I didn’t get in my teacher prep at school. I would advocate for making that a requirement for graduating.”

Many of the educators interviewed by the Teach Plus fellows said additional training in special education is important for all teachers — not just those who work exclusively with children who have special needs.

Many teachers said they didn’t feel adequately prepared to handle this once they took their jobs, and those who did felt overburdened by the requests they often got from colleagues who needed help with a special-needs student.

Ultimately, the researchers said it’s important that legislators and other education officials get involved to help address some of these gaps.

“We routinely lose promising novice teachers because they enter the classroom underprepared,” the report said. “As a state, we cannot continue this trend. Teacher recommendations to improve the preparation process must be foremost in policymakers’ minds.”