Schools need teachers

The Indiana Department of Education is granting emergency permits to people lacking certain requirements so that schools have enough teachers.

Imagine a student walking into their classroom on the first day of school only to find that there’s no teacher. No one to teach them math or science or simply how to be a contributing member of society. Emergency permits help stop such scenarios from ever becoming a reality.

Emergency permits are issued by the Indiana Department of Education to people who have a bachelor’s degree, but may not necessarily have all of their additional requirements completed to become a licensed teacher.

For some, it may mean they have a license to teach, but need a special certification to teach a new subject, such as a general math teacher getting extra training to then teach calculus. For others, they may be fresh out of college or switching careers and need a little more time to take the necessary classes and tests to get their license.

Teachers with emergency permits receive the same pay and benefits as licensed teachers in exchange for promising to take the necessary classes and tests to become fully licensed.

“It’s a solution, a way to get teachers into those roles,” Risa Regnier, director of licensing for the DOE, said. ”And those individuals have made a commitment to do what they need to do over time.”

During the last academic year, 2018-19, 3,467 emergency permits were issued to help fill the gaps in service that nearly every school district in the state is feeling right now. This number, according to Regnier, is 350 permits more than what was issued for 2017-18.

Keeping in mind the state of public education in Indiana right now, particularly regarding the ongoing teacher shortage, Regnier and the DOE predict this upward trend could continue in the coming years.

“With that number going up, I say it probably will continue to go up every year as long as we are seeing some shortages,” Regnier said.

Things weren’t always like this. While Regnier confirmed that emergency permits have been around for as long as she’s worked at the DOE, Steve Brace, TITLE, commented that the number of teachers using them was certainly lower a decade or so ago.

“Up to several years ago, emergency permits were rare,” Brace said. “You might have couple here or there, but now…there’s a bigger need for emergency permits.”

The abundance of emergency permits in use makes the current shortage of licensed teachers even more evident and pressing.

“The problem isn’t the people getting emergency permits, it’s the reason we have to have emergency permits,” Brace said. “And that’s simply because there aren’t enough teachers in particular licensed areas.”

As Steve noted, some school positions are harder to fill than others and usually see a higher concentration of people using emergency permits. Math and science teachers continue to be hard to come by, but the real challenge appears to be finding trained professionals for special education positions.

In most of the school corporations in northeast Indiana that had higher concentrations of teachers using emergency permits, the highest number of permits went to people working in mild intervention, or helping students that have mild physical or mental disabilities.

Location can also be a factor in how many teachers in a school are operating under these permits. Both ends of the spectrum, large corporations in urban areas and small corporations in rural areas are having difficulties attracting and retaining enough licensed teachers.

In larger schools, the sheer number of students that need to be taught warrants the need for more teachers, licensed or on emergency permit. In smaller, rural areas, budgets are squeezed so tight that teachers simply can’t afford to work in the field they spent years getting a license for.

“Six, seven, eight years ago, on average, a third of new teachers would leave within five years,” Brace said. “Now, it’s over 50% because their salaries have remained pretty much stagnant. In small districts, they haven’t gotten anything on their base only stipends and you can’t pay bills, you can’t live.”

For counties and towns that border other states, the competition is even fiercer as neighboring states have long since surpassed Indiana in terms of teacher salaries and benefits.

“We have a number of teachers who have not moved out of Indiana, but have stopped teaching here so they can go across the state line because they all pay so much more,” Brace said. “It’s really a result of not funding schools well enough to keep teachers.”

When people hear that their students are being taught by someone without a license, their first reaction may be concern, how good of an education are they getting? But the permits do have their own sets of requirements that include having a four-year bachelor’s degree in a subject as well as proof that they are taking steps to soon become a licensed teacher.

The only other option a school may have for filling a vacancy is by hiring a long-term substitute, many of which may not have any sort of degree and/or background in the subject they’re supposed to be teaching.

“If emergency permits didn’t exist, if you didn’t have a way to employ someone who already had a bachelor’s degree, the alternative to filling a classroom might be using a substitute teacher in a long-term assignment,” Regnier said. “And that sub may only have a high school diploma. So you think someone who at least has a bachelor’s degree is a better solution in most cases.”

Upward trends in emergency permit numbers shows that there are people out there who want to commit to educating future generations, but unless changes are made to how teachers are treated and compensated, public education will still be behind the curve.

“Teachers as a whole do not leave teaching because of the kids,” Brace said. “They leave teaching because they can’t afford to teach.”

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