Kokomo Tribune

Is there a teacher shortage in Indiana?

It appears the jury is out on this one. A drop-off in the number of teaching licenses issued in the state was enough to prompt State Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz to convene a panel and for a legislative study committee to examine the issue, but economists looking at the numbers are skeptical.

Last school year, the student-to-teacher ratio in the state was actually lower than it was 15 years ago. However, the total number of teachers in the state had dropped by 16 percent in five years.

While there’s no immediate crisis, industry professionals are increasingly unhappy with their careers.

Local educators cited a similar set of issues last year when it comes to recruiting new teachers: low pay, too much emphasis on testing, a sense of disrespect for the profession and no influence in policy decisions.

If these perceptions persist, it’s not hard to imagine a future in which teaching becomes one of the least desirable professions in the nation. Why would someone headed to college set a goal of getting a job where they will feel undercompensated, unappreciated, stifled and unimportant?

For economists, the path forward is simply to raise salaries, thus making the profession more attractive. But that would address only one of the four major complaints educators have about the climate. Increasing compensation won’t clear the cloud of negativity, nor will it change the atmosphere in which accountability is everything and inspiring a new generation of thinkers is put on the backburner.

The best teachers choose their careers out of a desire to make a difference in children’s lives, not because the pay is so much better than in other sectors. So, when the bad parts of the job start to outweigh the good ones, teachers are forced to examine their own happiness and make a tough choice.

If the declines continue, it’s possible there will be a problem in the future. It’s also clear that rural school districts struggle the most to find qualified professionals to fill their open positions.

We hope state officials can see the problem for what it is. It’s time to stop driving people out of the classroom and start providing quality educational experiences again.

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