Being a public school teacher is not what it was 20 years ago.
A lack of funding, the increased demands of the job and the pressure of standardized tests has dramatically changed the profession, some teachers say.
“I never thought the government would play such an important part of what goes on in my small little classroom,” said Mary Eisert, an English and family and consumer sciences teacher at Wea Ridge Middle School going into her 38th year of teaching.
Increasing pressure and responsibilities
One of the changes in the education landscape is the job market.
“When I first started out, it was really hard to get a job. In fact, I was really worried that I wasn’t going to get a job when I finished my degree, and I ended up just sort of taking the first one that was offered to me because I felt like I was going to be crazy if I didn’t,” said Andi Hipsher, a science teacher at West Lafayette Jr./Sr. High School who started teaching 17 years ago.
Now, school districts are faced with the challenge of finding teachers and staff.
“We are constantly recruiting new teachers because as our student enrollment increases, we need to add more teachers and staff in order to have the appropriate staff-to-student ratio to educate all of those students,” said Scott Hanback, superintendent of Lafayette School Corporation. “So every year, not only are we trying to find teachers to take the place of retirees, we’re also adding new positions to the table.
“There was a day 15 years ago where it was much easier than it is today. Today, it is more of a challenge. There are fewer and fewer young people choosing education as a profession. If you look at the different universities — really across the nation, but certainly here in Indiana — their colleges of education have seen a decline in the number of students that are pursuing a teaching degree.”
Ten years ago, the number of students pursuing teacher education at Purdue was 1,643. Today, that number is 919, according to numbers provided by the College of Education.
For all of the work teachers do, Indiana teachers are paid a median salary of about $50,000, the 14th lowest compared to the other 50 states, according to USA Today.
“The starting salary is so low,” Eisert said. “It’s the money and pressures (potential teachers) see teachers face.”
Even some of those who do choose the profession don’t stay in it.
“Over the past five years, the turnover rate has been crazy,” Hipsher said. “It’s just not a profession that people are sticking with because demands are really high, and it’s a very stressful job.”
State Representative Sheila Klinker, who has served the Lafayette and West Lafayette area since 1982, cites a lack of professional development opportunities and incentives as one of the reasons why students are not going into the profession. In the past, Indiana required all teachers to have a master’s degree. Eisert says even if someone gets a master’s degree, it doesn’t make sense financially any more for teachers.
“When I got my master’s, I got up to a $3,000 raise,” Eisert said. “Now, you could only have a $300 raise, which does not even cover a credit hour.”
Part of the increasing responsibility of teachers is that they must wear many different hats as they look out for students social and emotional needs and deal with emerging technological issues, like cyberbullying.
“Every year we have to go through hours of training for CPR, bloodborne pathogens, human trafficking, suicide prevention training,” Eisert said. “Not that I don’t want to do these things — it’s like the saying ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ — but it’s a lot.”
In the last legislative session, a government mandate was passed that all teachers must have 15 workforce hours at a company or local business as part of their professional development for renewal of licensure. Recommended by the Governor’s Workforce Cabinet, the legislation was designed to encourage teachers to bring real-world experiences into the classroom, according to the Indiana Department of Education.
‘With what we’ve received, we can maintain the status quo’
In the newly approved 2019-2021 budget, $7.3 billion was allocated to K-12 education in the fiscal year 2020 in Indiana, an increase from $7.1 billion received in 2019. Education makes up the largest portion of the state budget.
According to Ron Alting, state senate majority leader, fund allocation to school districts is complicated, but factors include the percentage of students on free and reduced lunch, school enrollment size and performance on the state standardized test — although that’s not the case this year due to the switch to the new ILEARN test. Both West Lafayette School Corporation and Lafayette School Corporation have seen an increase in funding in the latest budget, according to the school district’s respective superintendents Rocky Killion and Les Huddle.
But the increase in funds for school may not be enough. West Lafayette School Corporation is receiving $600 less per student than a decade ago, according to Killion.
“We would still believe that the fact that while we got an increase from our legislators this past year, that may not be enough to go beyond what we’re currently doing,” Huddle said. “With what we’ve received, we can maintain the status quo.”
According to Alting, whose service to Tippecanoe County started in 1998, much of that money is going towards testing and charter schools. From Alting’s talks with public schools in the state, the additional money left for public schools is primarily going towards maintaining and expanding infrastructure for growing student populations.
“We’re putting $268 million into public education, but you would never know it if you were in the (public) schools,” Alting said.
The superintendents of West Lafayette School Corporation, Lafayette School Corporation and Tippecanoe School Corporation all shared their concern about how public taxpayer dollars are not going to public schools.
“Because we are publicly funded through taxpayer dollars, we want to be good stewards. We want to be frugal with the dollars, that are entrusted to us (and) we want to do our best to give the kids the best opportunities possible,” Huddle said. “And so, I get concerned when public money goes towards private schools or other alternatives that don’t necessarily play by the same rules, so to speak. They don’t have all the same standards and accountability measures that a traditional public school has, and there are entrance standards. ... My view is that those publicly funded dollars should be at the top, and we get the best chunk of that, because we are educating the public.”
There is not much more school administration can do with teacher compensation with what they receive from the state, according to Killion.
“We lose people every year because we can’t give them a living-wage compensation because the funding’s not there,” Killion said. “There’s this perception out there that school districts need to spend differently when it comes to teacher pay, but over 90% of our budget goes to salaries and benefits, so there’s very little room that we have to make adjustments.”
Funding per student has not kept up with other states, falling 11 places between the 2009-10 school year and the 2015-16 school year, according to a Indiana State Teachers Association report by Robert Toutkoushian, a professor at the Institute of Higher Education at the University of Georgia. The study concluded that Indiana must increase its investment in public schools by nearly $1.5 billion annually to match the average of neighboring states and over $3.3 billion annually to reach the previous national ranking five years ago.
The current situation can be attributed to the legacy of policies and proposals of former Gov. Mitch Daniels, who served the state of Indiana from 2005-13. Several sources noted his administration’s impact on K-12 education. According to the Indianapolis Business Journal, Daniel’s education proposals in 2011 included “a broad expansion of charter schools and limits on teacher union contracts.”
“The state took some bargaining powers from the unions and some teachers dropped membership, saying it wasn’t worth the cost with limited powers,” said Eisert, who is also the Tippecanoe Education Association president.
During Daniels’ administration, the loss of union bargaining power, increase in school accountability based on standardized tests and A-F grades and expansion of school vouchers for private, charter and virtual schools has altered the outside perception of teachers.
“Sometimes, you read about it in the paper, we’re (teachers) just kind of looked at as glorified babysitters,” Hipsher said. “So it’s not really one of those careers that people are looking into unfortunately because there’s kind of a misunderstanding about what we do for a living.”
“It’s not just a government problem, it’s a society problem,” said Indiana State Teachers Association.
Attracting people back to the profession
Superintendents, teachers, legislators and professors across the board agreed that the teaching profession needs to be elevated and respected.
The government is trying to use incentives and scholarships for teachers to get students to pursue education and give back to Indiana communities. The Next Generation Hoosier Educators Scholarship provides a renewable scholarship of up to $7,500 per year for four academic years. The 21st Century STEM Teacher Scholarship provides a renewable scholarship of up to $10,000 per year for four academic years. Scholarship recipients must teach at eligible Indiana schools for a certain number of years after graduation.
Another strategy superintendents are looking to utilize is promoting the profession to local high school students.
“We need to continually tell our high school, middle school and even elementary students that being a teacher is a noble profession,” Huddle said. “And while it has some bumps and bruises, just like any other job or profession, once you get in, you kind of learn the trade. It’s a profession where there are a lot of positive aspects.”
Teacher recruitment has to be more creative as more and more potential teachers are being driven to higher paying jobs in the private sector, according to Alting. The average starting salary for a teacher in Indiana 2017-2018 was $35,943 compared to $50,516, the average starting salary for a college graduate in the Class of 2017, according to the National Education Association and National Association of Colleges and Employers.
Purdue’s College of Education is working on a media campaign of posting teacher education student’s video stories on why they chose education, according to Nancy Marchand-Martella, dean of the College of Education. An exploration opportunity for high school students is the new Greater Lafayette Career Academy education career pathway.
According to Hanback, public schools are “the bedrock of our democracy. It’s the foundation of our communities.”
With this in mind, the Public Schools Foundation schedules an annual cupcake run/walk for the community to show support for teachers and local public schools. During the last annual Cupcake Run/Walk for Public Education in West Lafayette, 1,196 participants raised around $18,960 for teacher grants in Tippecanoe County.
“This year, especially in light of the teacher shortage and low-pay talk that we’re getting at the state house, it’s one of those ‘now more than evers,’” said Christine Isbell, executive director of the Public Schools Foundation of Tippecanoe County. “Not only are we a resource in terms of dollars, but I think that it’s encouraging the teachers to know that at least we’re out there advocating and trying to get together a pool of funding in case they should come up with a great idea.”
Despite the negativity surrounding the profession, teachers continue to work around the clock for their students.
“It’s definitely not a 9-5 job,” Hipsher said. “In addition to making lesson plans and grading on our own time, ... we have meetings that we have to go to.”
It’s a profession that is crucial for society, but dishonored, Alting said.
“The most important job in Tippecanoe County isn’t the state senator, the mayor or the county sheriff,” Alting said. “It’s the teachers.”