Fewer people are applying for open teaching jobs than in past years, but when the subject is business, engineering or technology classes, only a few candidates, if any, are interested in the job.
The issue is one schools across the state and nation are facing, local school officials said.
As schools look to offer more specialized courses, such as in business or technology, to prepare students for life after graduation, they need teachers who have experience in those areas. And those teachers are hard to find, officials said.
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For example, at Indian Creek High School, no one applied for an open science teacher position last year, and two years ago, the high school was short one special education and one math teacher for the first nine weeks. That has made Principal Luke Skobel quickly become very familiar with the process of getting a teacher an emergency license — allowing them to temporarily teach a subject they aren’t licensed in until they can get that certification, he said.
At Greenwood Community High School, officials have been struggling all school year to hire a engineering and technology teacher. At Whiteland Community High School, finding teachers for business courses is a big struggle, school officials said.
In addition, schools across the state are facing a big problem when new requirements kick in that teachers of dual credit courses — which allow students to earn both high school and college credits at the same time — have to have a masters degree or have taken at least some additional courses beyond their bachelor’s degree in the subject they teach.
So far, Indian Creek High School has not been able to replace teachers with a masters degree that leave or retire in order to meet the new requirements, Nineveh-Hensley-Jackson Schools Superintendent Tim Edsell said. So now, they are looking at incentives that might entice their current teachers to go back to school, he said.
And they are also changing courses from dual credit to Advanced Placement, where students can still earn college credit if they pass an exam at the end of the course, when they can’t replace the teachers who had been teaching the dual credit courses, Skobel said.
Much of the issue comes down to money, officials said.
Schools want to have teachers with real life experience, such as in business or technology, but they aren’t able to pay them anywhere near a comparable salary to what they would make in those fields, Clark-Pleasant Schools assistant superintendent John Schilawski said.
“We need to have a top to bottom re-examination of what schooling looks like in our country and then prioritize what is really important,” he said.
In order to teach kids about how to be successful in business, schools want a teacher who has been successful in that field. But people don’t go into business in order to teach students about it, Schilawski said. In fact, colleges that did offer specialized courses meant for educators that wanted to teach about business have eliminated or scaled back on those programs because of a lack of interest in recent years, he said.
The same is true for technology courses because that field has high-paying careers, so the teachers that go into that area do so because they want to teach kids, not because of the pay, he said. And unfortunately, not many of those teachers exist, he said.
“We are actually in competition with the real world,” Schilawski said.
Skobel has also found that same issue with high school science teachers, and has learned from reaching out to colleges across Indiana, from Indiana University to Franklin College to Ball State University, that fewer than 15 students will graduate with that degree next year, he said.
The shortage of teachers is something schools have been talking about for years, as the number of applications for open teaching positions dropped from the hundreds to maybe 50. But when a position is more specialized — even social studies or physical education — that number can be less than 20, Edsell said.
That is an issue Center Grove schools has been watching, but so far, it hasn’t been a problem, Superintendent Richard Arkanoff said.
The shortage of future teachers becomes even more of a concern as Baby Boomers near retirement, Edsell said.
“We are going to have borderline massive gaps and deficiencies in these positions,” he said.
That is why the school district has been seeking teachers as early as possible in the hiring season each year, by heading out to job fairs in the spring, for example, he said.
And they are putting a big emphasis on working to keep the teachers they have, including through mentoring new teachers and helping them through their first year to looking at ways to entice teachers to go back for more education to be able to teach more courses, such as the dual credit courses or STEM-focused classes, he said.
“Because of the teacher shortage, the teachers we do find and hire, we have to do a better job of keeping them,” Edsell said.
And while officials have been continuing to work to increase teacher pay as much as possible, they also need to focus on other incentives for people to work for them, including hosting staff gatherings and outings and trying to give the workplace a family feel, Skobel said.
Schools also want the state to look at the issue and ways to address it, from helping boost the number of college students going into education to making sure the job is attractive to them. While pay may not be the highest, schools do have other advantages, including job stability and programs that help teachers pay off student loans, Schilawski said.
But some people don’t want to go into the education field because of the recent discussions of the failings of education and the focus on teacher accountability that has often made it more difficult for teachers to do their jobs, Schilawski said.
“There are some things that need to be re-examined — our overall commitment to what educators do every single day, how can we support and advance them in professional growth,” he said.