LaPorte, Indiana is not as rural as the towns featured in this VICE News segment, but we share some similarities with these communities. Recently, I heard a story about the differences that have happened in the last 10-15 years in the number of applicants for a gym teacher position. In the past, there might be 15-20 applicants. Now, they are lucky to get 4-6 candidates.
Last year, research published by Indiana State University suggested that of the 220 districts that responded to the survey, 91 percent reported experiencing a teacher shortage. What is causing the shortage? According to their data, a combination of factors including lack of pay and high turnover. To illustrate this sobering reality, the U.S. Department of Education said that in Indiana, inflation-adjusted teacher pay has fallen since the 1999-2000 school year to the point where teachers now earn almost 16 percent less than they did two decades ago.
All my life, my father has repeated this axiom, "If you want to know what someone values, take a look at their pocketbook." While that's not true in every circumstance, there is some truth to it. If we value the development of children and education in Indiana, we should be willing to compete with the states that are compensating their educators far more than the Hoosier state.
Over the last year, in helping a small team of teachers and staff at our local elementary school achieve certification and develop curriculum, I witnessed the incredible lengths that educators, staff, counselors, and administrators go to provide every student with a thorough and efficient education while also working to bolster a child's social-emotional well-being.
It's late nights and early mornings. It's pressure from administrators and parents to meet standards that are not always well-defined. It's processing stories of trauma and chaos with a child while trying to create environments of inclusion and embrace (but, don't forget about those education standards!) It's being scapegoated when something in a school doesn't work, but also being asked to do more with less each year. It's being told that "we need to stop teaching to the test!" while being handed new requirements for the next test. It's recognizing that they can make more money in another vocation, but holding strong to the unrequited joy and satisfaction when a child gets "it" for the first time.
We need more public school teachers. We need better-paid public school teachers. And, not for the sake of the educators; for the hope of a healthy and adjusted society. If you want to know what someone values, take a look at their pocketbook.