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Indiana Schools Not Hiring New Assistant Teachers

Auxiliary teacher licenses represent the newest route to work in Indiana classrooms, after they were approved by the state legislature earlier this year. Yet so far, school leaders seem unwilling to use them to hire people, even amid fears that districts will start the school year understaffed.

Auxiliary licenses require individuals to have only four years of experience in a content area and pass a background check before beginning to teach. They are similar to recent programs in other states that have put non-traditional candidates in the classroom to address shortages.

Auxiliaries also receive their licenses directly from school districts rather than the state Department of Education, which sparked controversy during the legislative session over how local school boards would ensure consistent teacher quality.

But no school has posted schedule-eligible jobs on the department’s new jobs site since the law took effect July 1, department spokeswoman Holly Lawson said.

Although posting jobs on the site is not mandatory, a presentation to the State Board of Education in June said all but one of the state’s traditional public schools used the platform, which currently has 1,802 teaching positions open.

Although comparable job postings for the past year are not available, recent statewide data showed a decline in the number of people entering the teaching profession and a slight increase in the number of people who come out. These trends have raised fears of a shrinking pool of teachers.

Challenges in Hiring Assistants

While some districts may have quietly adopted supplemental permits, there are several reasons why schools have not shown more interest in permits as a solution to this year’s staffing issues.

First, the permits are new and untested, said Todd Bess, executive director of the Indiana Association of School Principals. To hire an assistant teacher, a school board would have to vouch for an unauthorized candidate who may have no prior teaching experience.

“Our school boards need to be very knowledgeable about who this person is and feel that this is the right position,” Bess said.

And finding teacher candidates in general has become more difficult over the years, said Miranda Hutcheson, director of vocational and technical training at the Greater Lafayette Career Academy, which serves the Lafayette, West Lafayette and Tippecanoe school corporations.

A week before new teacher orientation and two weeks before school started, Hutcheson was still trying to hire teachers for the computer science and agriculture programs.

For the latter, she’s asked for recommendations from Purdue University, America’s future farmers and parents in the farming industry — but still hasn’t found any takers.

“It’s hard to find people with this skill set who are willing to come and work with high school students full-time or part-time,” Hutcheson said. “I have kids who want to take these classes and get these credits, and I can’t offer it to students, just because I can’t find a teacher. This is really the hardest part.

Hutcheson’s program primarily hires teachers with a traditional license and teachers with a workplace specialist license. Like adjunct teacher licenses, workplace specialist licenses are based on an individual’s experience in a certain career field.

But licenses are managed by the Department of Education and come with a longer list of requirements and responsibilities than supplemental licenses, such as a high school diploma or a successful Praxis test. Individuals must also complete classroom teaching courses after receiving their first specialist licenses.

Hutcheson said hiring certified teachers gives students industry experience and allows the Career Academy to offer dual credit courses in partnership with colleges, which is important for students who register.

Indiana’s code specifies that high school teachers who teach dual credit courses must be approved by a college or university, which usually requires taking certain college courses.

Although adjunct teacher permits were for hard-to-fill positions in science and career and technical education, Hutcheson said they wouldn’t work well for the Lafayette Career Academy program because instructors would not be able to offer double credit.

Future role of support teachers

The state plans to release its annual report on the number of active teacher licenses later this year. The 2021 report showed a slight recovery in both the number of active licenses and the number of licenses issued for the first time after a decline in 2020.

The most common occupational specialist licenses were in nursing, with 26 licenses issued in 2021.

Bess, from the headmasters’ association, said there was hope the supplemental permits could be useful to schools in the future. While lawmakers may have wanted licenses for science and technology fields, Bess said professionals in fields like law or technical writing could also enter the teaching profession.

And schools may need it as they face hiring challenges. Even fields that traditionally had larger pools of applicants — like social studies and elementary education — have seen those pools shrink recently, Bess said.

He also said some schools are facing a domino effect of established teachers leaving for other districts who can pay more or are closer to home, leaving positions open in smaller, more rural districts.

Bess said the state could do more to attract teachers, such as dedicating some of its historic budget surplus to schools and communicating the good work teachers are already doing.

“The best thing you can do is hire someone and keep them and make them the best teacher you can be, instead of always having this hiring season on rotation,” Bess said.

Aleksandra Appleton covers Indiana education policy and writes about K-12 schools across the state. Contact her at aappleton@chalkbeat.org.

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