Future of Teaching

How to attract and keep teachers in Indianapolis? Build them a village.

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos
Teachers and community members gather to hear about plans for a new "teacher village" in development on the city's near-east side.

While he was out biking in his southeast side neighborhood, Joe Mount came across a troubling scene: Two boys were throwing small rocks at a young girl.

He immediately recognized her from the honors English class he had taught at Emma Donnan Middle School. He quickly intervened.

He said he wouldn’t have been there to settle the squabble if he weren’t living nearby, three blocks away in a neighborhood right off Garfield Park. Mount, 24, who was born and raised in Indianapolis, asked to be placed in the city during his stint with Teach for America and knew he wanted to live close to Donnan.

“You get a sense of ownership and involvement with your students that you wouldn’t get if you lived 20 minutes south,” Mount said.

For years, Indianapolis and cities across the country have grappled with how to attract new teachers to the classroom and encourage them to stay. Offering early career educators — particularly those in inner cities — housing that they can afford on their teacher salaries and near their schools could solve two problems: bolster relationships between teachers and students and quell persistent teaching shortages.

To address those challenges, several Indianapolis community groups unveiled a proposal to create a “teacher village” in the center city at an open house Tuesday night. The partnership among the city of Indianapolis; Near East Area Renewal, a nonprofit community developer; and Indianapolis Neighborhood Housing Partnership, a nonprofit that helps people prepare to buy homes, would result in 20 or more homes in the 800 to 900 block of North Rural Street, a part of town known as St. Clair Place. The homes would be priced starting around $130,000, but several would be available as rentals.

NEAR anticipates the first homes would be available in May 2018. And although rules around the project’s funding say they must be open to any potential buyer, NEAR wants to market the homes heavily to teachers in Indianapolis Public Schools and inner-city charter schools.

John Franklin Hay, executive director for NEAR, said the project coincides with a larger effort to revitalize the near-east side, where crime and poverty rates are high. But redevelopment is changing the area, with new and rehabbed homes popping up within blocks of abandoned houses.

“We were challenged by Indianapolis Public Schools and Teach Plus and by the city of Indianapolis about a year and a half ago to begin developing a teacher village,” Hay said. “Our intention from the very beginning … was to develop housing and do our revitalizing of St. Clair Place. It would be a mixed-income neighborhood that would be more diverse than when we started.”

The near-east side is home to more than a dozen public and private schools, including 10 in IPS. Teach Plus Indiana, part of a national organization that trains teachers to advocate for policy, researched problems teachers face when trying to find housing. Typically, they found, the houses near their schools are far too expensive even though downtown housing is booming in the city — since 2010, 50 new complexes have been built, and most charge $1,300 per month or more. According to a March 2017 article in Forbes, average rent in Indianapolis is $806.

“The majority of residents within these complexes make $80,000 per year or higher,” the policy brief states. “Given that Indianapolis Public Schools starting salary is half of that, few teachers, if any, can afford to live within the Center Township. Of the teachers who do choose to live within the limits of Circle City, they must sacrifice either safety or savings.”

The problem is not unique to Indianapolis. A report out of New York University cites research showing students benefit from building closer relationships with teachers, particularly those in high-poverty urban schools. Those effects can come later in life, but they also can be as immediate as math achievement over the course of a school year. Living in the community they teach, argues Etta Hollins, a University of Missouri-Kansas City professor, leads to a much deeper understanding of students and the support they need.

Nor is the desire to live and work in the same community unique to teachers. Cities across the country have taken a variety of measures — from restricting where civil servants can live to building housing specifically for police officers, firefighters, sanitation workers and other municipal employees — to place their workforce closer to their jobs.

Other cities across the country, including Philadelphia and Baltimore, have seen success with such models for teachers — for instance, the Philadelphia teacher village was fully rented out six months before it was finished, and district-subsidized housing in Santa Clara, California, has a 30-person waiting list, the Teach Plus policy brief states.

The open house attracted about 30 interested educators. They offered ideas about what amenities were important to them in their homes and a neighborhood, including being close to grocery stores, restaurants and fitness centers as well as having parking, outdoor lighting and storage space.

Many also emphasized safety, which NEAR said it is already addressing. Often, high-poverty urban centers where schools are located have more crime than surrounding suburbs. Every teacher village home would come with a security system, and the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department has installed surveillance in the area.

The teachers also added that some kind of incentive from their schools or district — whether that’s down-payment assistance, longer-term contracts or salary bonuses — would also encourage them to seek out permanent housing in the teacher village.

While some teachers might prefer separating their personal and professional communities, teachers like Mount said he considered himself lucky to be able to live near where he worked. His school, Donnan Middle School, is 43 percent white and 37 percent black and is located in a fairly high-poverty area southeast of the city.

Once he relocated, he said, he regularly walked his dog around his neighborhood, occasionally stopping to chat with students he ran into at a local convenience store where they bought snacks after school. He also stopped driving to work each day, preferring instead to bike.

“The kids immediately picked up on that,” he said, laughing. “That’s something weird and novel … you start getting a reputation in other grades just with that.”

Mount said moving to the neighborhood surrounding his school changed so much about how he interacted with his students, and he’s grateful he lucked into an affordable option. He said he hopes other teachers can have that same opportunity someday.

“It was incredibly important to be able to point to the street behind the school and say, ‘I live on that street. I know what’s going on,’” he said. “I lived in that area, I was their neighbor … it was everything.”

survey says

We asked Indiana teachers why they’re leaving the classroom: ‘Death by a thousand cuts’

PHOTO: Getty Images

In her first classroom at Indianapolis Public School 79 in 1977, art teacher Teresa Kendall had five whole potter’s wheels to herself. Plus clay. And a kiln.

She was under orders from her principal, she remembers, to make sure her students “have all the art they can have.”

Nearly 39 years, five layoffs, and four school districts later, she returned to Indianapolis Public Schools, where she was told there were just a handful of potter’s wheels in the entire district. She managed to get her hands on one, rescuing it from an unused classroom at Arlington High School.

Chalkbeat asks Indiana teachers: Why did you leave the classroom?

“It’s a huge difference,” Kendall said, comparing her situation to other schools she’s seen. “It just puts a knot in my stomach when I think about it … I think about what my kids at [School] 105 have to do without.”

Kendall said she spent hundreds of dollars on supplies, and she was overwhelmed by having to configure her 28-seat classroom to accommodate 62 students. At the end of last year, she decided to leave teaching altogether.

“It was the most solid community school I’ve ever been in, in all of my career,” Kendall said. “I miss it tremendously. But I couldn’t stay there.”

Carrie Black, an Indianapolis Public Schools spokeswoman, said classes might have been large at one point when the district was working to hire a substitute for a teacher on family leave, but the principal at School 105 said there were enough tables and chairs for the whole class. The principal also said teachers were told they could be reimbursed for supplies.

“Under no circumstances was she required to supply her art room in any way, shape, or form,” Black said. “So if she did, those were decisions she made on her own.”

More than 60 former Indiana teachers responded to a Chalkbeat survey about why they decided to leave teaching, a problem that policymakers and state lawmakers have said is part of the reason behind this year’s efforts to raise teacher salaries — which some educators and advocates say don’t go nearly far enough. Across the country, teachers have gone on strike and protested to demand better pay and working conditions, stirring up national conversation about the challenges they face.

Kendall, who has two master’s degrees, made $48,000 when she left IPS. The most she’d made, she said, was close to $62,000 when she taught in Lebanon. Now, she’s a paralegal.

The former teachers, from schools all over the state, reported a wide range of salaries over the years — from as low as $26,000 to more than $66,000. Now out of the classroom, they have found jobs as nurses, bus drivers, engineers, insurance agents, and seasonal park rangers. Some are unemployed, stay-at-home-parents, or graduate students.

While many former teachers said low pay or stagnant salaries contributed to their decisions to find other careers, more cited increasing responsibilities for reporting and testing, dwindling support and coaching from administrators, and “punitive” teacher evaluations.

Here is a selection of their reasons for leaving, lightly edited for clarity and length.

Too little pay

  • I had a third child and my entire paycheck was going toward insurance and childcare. I couldn’t afford to work.
  • State laws were being introduced that would make it next to impossible to ever increase my salary, or even to bargain to try to keep pace with the cost of living.
  • I was 20 years into teaching and felt undervalued, overworked, and underpaid for my education, training, and role as a teacher. I had reached the top of the pay scale and there was not room to advance. I didn’t want to become an administrator. Our insurance was steadily rising and with no pay raises, we were making less than what I had started with 20 years ago. My wife and I were both teachers and we both had to take part-time jobs to help pay the bills.
  • The level of stress, the constant demand on more and more of my time and energy with no compensation, and the low wages! Also the constant micromanaging!
  • In my 12th year I was making less than I did in year one. Health insurance was too costly, parents were overbearing, and the amount of accommodations needed for students was out of hand.

Too much testing, politics, and red tape

  • I couldn’t take any more of the state legislature’s disrespect of teachers. The loss of school funding, punitive evaluation methods, and absolute lack of willingness to truly listen to educators about our needs and what goes on in a classroom made me realize it wasn’t worth it anymore.
  • The constant change in state testing.
  • I had had it with ISTEP and school accountability practices demanding measurable outcomes and driving learning away from what we all know are best practices.
  • There was constant assessing without allowing kids to be kids and grow socially and mentally. Spent more hours assessing than teaching.
  • The time required to be spent on more red tape and paperwork instead of just doing what I knew was best for kids was too much.
  • I was working 10-12-hour days just to get state-mandated paperwork done AND papers graded. I loved my kids, I loved my school, I loved my principals, but I hated meetings every morning to appease legislators who are clueless, and I hated having to prove what a great teacher I was.
  • The time the job required meant my son and I were at school until 8 or 9 every night. All that time and dedication with no guarantee of a job? No thanks.
  • Teachers were treated as if we were entry level employees who could not make any decisions for themselves.
  • My afternoon classes had 39, 38, and 40 students. The Rise rubric [for teacher evaluations] made everyone feel like they were failures before even being evaluated.
  • I was dealing with burnout, and I was tired of working as many hours as I did and being as undervalued as I was. It felt like I constantly had administrators, parents and community members telling me what was wrong with how I did things.
  • I was expected to assign at least 10 math problems to every student every night. Since I had about 100 students, that’s about 1,000 math problems every night. Bottom line, time with my family is more important.
  • I felt overwhelmed by what the legislators were inflicting on us, the lack of true support from administrators, and just the stress that is teaching even in the best of times. Most of all — I was exhausted, I guess. Death by a thousand cuts, more or less.

negotiations

Aurora school board reverses course, accepts finding that district should have negotiated bonuses with union

Students in a math class at Aurora Central High School in April 2017. (Photo by Yesenia Robles, Chalkbeat)

Following weeks of criticism, the Aurora school board on Tuesday reversed course and accepted an arbitrator’s finding that a pilot bonus system violated the district’s agreement with the teachers union.

The Aurora school district rolled out an experiment last year to offer bonuses to some teachers and other staff in hard-to-fill positions, such as psychologists, nurses and speech language pathologists.

The teachers union argued that the plan should have been negotiated first. An arbitrator agreed and issued a report recommending that the pilot program stop immediately and that the district negotiate any future offerings. The union and school board are set to start negotiations next month about how to change teacher pay, using new money voters approved in November.

When school board members first considered the arbitrator’s report last month, they declined to accept the findings, which were not binding. That raised concerns for union members that the district might implement bonuses again without first negotiating them.

Tuesday’s new resolution, approved on a 5-1 vote, accepted the full arbitrator’s report and its recommendations. Board member Monica Colbert voted against the motion, and board member Kevin Cox was absent.

Back in January 2018, school board members approved a budget amendment that included $1.8 million to create the pilot for incentivizing hard-to-fill positions. On Tuesday, board member Cathy Wildman said she thought through the budget vote, the school board may have allowed the district to create that incentive program, even though the board now accepts the finding that they should have worked with union before trying this experiment.

“It was a board decision at that time to spend that amount on hard-to-fill positions,” Wildman said.

Board president Marques Ivey said he was not initially convinced by the arbitrator’s position, but said that he later read more and felt he could change his vote based on having more information.

Last month, the Aurora school board discussed the report with its attorney in a closed-door executive session. When the board met in public afterward, it chose not to uphold the entire report, saying that the board could not “come to an agreement.” Instead board members voted on a resolution that asked the school district to negotiate any future “long-term” incentive programs.

Union president Bruce Wilcox called the resolution “poorly worded” and slammed the board for not having the discussion in public, calling it a “backroom deal.” Several other teachers also spoke to the board earlier this month, reminding the newest board members’ of their campaign promises to increase transparency.

Board members responded by saying that they did not hold an official vote; rather the board was only deciding how to proceed in public. Colorado law prohibits schools boards from taking positions, or votes, in private.

The board on Tuesday also pushed the district to provide more detailed information about the results of the pilot and survey results that tried to quantify how it affected teachers deciding to work in Aurora.