News 18 Investigates: Looming teacher shortage ahead?

TIPPECANOE CO., Ind. (WLFI) – The new school year began for most students last week. More than ever, they are getting a brand new teacher.

It’s a problem for area school superintendents who tell News 18 they are losing experienced teachers at a rate they’ve never seen. Some worry that a teacher shortage could soon be a very real thing.

For example, Lafayette schools hired 76 new teachers this year, more than three times the usual amount. West Lafayette has lost about one-third of their teachers in the last five years.

“The last two years have been very challenging,” said LSC Associate Superintendent John Layton.

“We’re getting ready to hit a major roadblock in education,” adds West Lafayette Superintendent Rocky Killion.

It’s tough to imagine a classroom without a teacher, but Killion is among those who feel like it’s a real possibility in the future.

“We’re not going to have the staff to provide quality teachers in the classroom unless we turn this thing around,” said Killion.

There’s no easy answer for why so many teachers are leaving area districts.

Layton attributes most of the retirements last year to teachers who didn’t want to deal with new teacher evaluations. He attributes most of the ones this year to formula changes to the pension plan.

It’s a topic News 18 already explored in June when 11 of North White’s 55 teachers retired.

But a retiring Baby Boomer population as well as a more mobile younger generation, could also play a role.

Killion believes it’s the combined impact of recent legislative reforms giving less freedom to teachers in the classroom and basing salaries on standardized testing, meaning in some cases districts are cutting pay.

“That has not happened here yet,” said Killion. “I think it has a great possibility of happening throughout the state of Indiana.”

Administrators agree the teacher pool is especially small for disciplines like special education, secondary level math and science — like chemistry and physics — and family and consumer sciences.

Area districts have their own strategies of trying to attract the best teachers.

West Lafayette is posting openings on more national websites.

TSC has started paying teachers in high need areas slightly more. Plus administrators are attending more job fairs and doing it earlier than ever, “to really hit the recruiting trail a lot sooner in the process to various colleges and universities in state and out of state,” said Superintendent Scott Hanback.

Plus, TSC is giving high school students a chance to explore the field before they graduate, through shadowing as well as working with students in pre-K and elementary schools.

“We’re trying to encourage more and more of the best and the brightest of our students to go into teaching,” said Hanback.

LSC starts the hiring process earlier than ever, with staffing meetings beginning in January — a full seven months ahead of the first day of class. In addition, it’s started hosting its own job fair in the spring to interview prospective candidates.

“If you have enough time, if you start early, we start about two months earlier than we used to,” said Layton. “We start the process earlier, we get a head start on getting quality candidates.”

Layton has started to not just promote the benefits of LSC, but the high quality of life that comes from living in Greater Lafayette and near Purdue University. Something that can be very attractive to a younger generation of teacher.

“We’ve been aggressively trying to sell that as we’ve been recruiting,” said Layton.

Each man agrees teachers who are less qualified are not getting hired.

“I don’t think we’ve reached that point yet,” added Layton.

Layton believes there is no looming long-term shortage.

“I really do believe the market will correct itself,” said Layton. “As long as there’s jobs and you provide a good opportunity for teachers, the people will go into the profession.”

Killion has a more dire view, unless the situation turns around quickly.

“Kids are not going to get a high quality education in the state of Indiana because we can’t draw and retain the best and brightest in the classroom,” said Killion.

It’s not just regular teachers where shortages are taking place. Substitute teaching in LSC has also taken a hit. Layton said historically, the corporation successfully filled 97 to 98 percent of openings with a sub. Last year, it fell to the mid-80s. He adds many other districts across the state are experiencing the same problem.

Purdue University is taking steps to try to graduate more teachers to fill the growing need. News 18 will take a look at what they are doing Tuesday on News 18 at Five and Six.

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