When 18-year-old Kendall Cooper tells his classmates he aspires to become a teacher, they sigh.
When Cooper adds he wants to teach history, they sigh even more.
Their reactions haven't discouraged the North Side High School senior, who is taking a step toward his desired career through the school's cadet teacher program.
Although new to North Side, the course's concept isn't new to Fort Wayne Community Schools and other Allen County districts. Some students, including those at Leo Junior-Senior High School, can even enroll in dual-credit programs for those interested in becoming teachers.
Educators said these and other programs can help prepare the next generation of teachers.
The state of teaching and lack of quality candidates is a concern educators share, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick found during a statewide tour this fall.
“There's not much relief coming in the pipeline, so as a department we are committed to trying to free up some of those opportunities, to allow people to transition into the field, also to gain interest in the field,” she said in an audio clip online.
“We have a lot of room and a lot of deep conversations that need to happen around this concern. You know, money matters. Pay matters. Benefits matter. Working conditions matter, and for us to pretend that they don't is not doing anyone any favors.”
State education officials have said the decline in initial teaching licenses began after 2012-13, with state policy changes in how teachers were evaluated and paid, including tying pay to student performance on standardized tests.
In 2015-16, the number of new teaching licenses went up for the first time in three years. When the roughly 18 percent increase was reported last year, McCormick's predecessor, Glenda Ritz, said it could help ease teacher shortages reported by a majority of school districts.
The upward trend continued in 2016-17, with 5,016 new licenses, an increase of about 450 from the previous year, according to the Indiana Department of Education.
North Side junior Darian Lambert, who wants to teach high school math, said his fellow cadet teachers are aware of the demand. He recalled something their teacher and principal told them.
“They said we're the future of the teaching world,” the 16-year-old said.
Statewide, enrollment in the Education Professions pathway has experienced steady growth, with a 38 percent increase in enrollment over the last four years, from 1,314 to 1,813, the state Department of Education reported.
The program gives high school students the foundation to pursue higher education and employment in education careers.
Other statewide recruitment initiatives have focused on career and technical education teachers to address shortages. Targeted subjects are agriculture education, family and consumer sciences, and engineering and tech education, according to the Education Department.
Jill Cross has been teaching cadet teachers at Northrop High School long enough to have former students who are now teachers with cadet teachers of their own.
The program is a great opportunity for teens to determine whether they want to teach before investing money in college classes, she said.
Chelsea Lininger, a Holland Elementary School educator and former Northrop cadet teacher, agreed.
“It also gives students the chance to work under great elementary school teachers and learn teaching strategies and management within the classroom,” she said in an email.
At North Side, students were working on lesson plans and seemed at ease using educational jargon. Senior Maranda Bradley, 17, said the class has increased her passion for education, a subject she could see herself pursuing in college.
In East Allen County Schools, 15 students are enrolled in a new dual-credit program the University of Saint Francis started with Leo Junior-Senior High School. It is designed for students interested in education careers.
Students have researched controversial topics in education, analyzed ISTEP scores and, among other lessons, learned how education has evolved, Leo teacher Molly Baumert said. Next semester, she said, they will complete 15 hours of classroom observation.
Early exposure to the classroom is important in helping students decide whether teaching is for them, Indiana Commissioner for Higher Education Teresa Lubbers said. Student teaching shouldn't be their first time in that environment.
“It isn't just about recruiting teachers,” she said. “It's about retaining them.”
Baumert and Cross said their students have applied for the Next Generation Hoosier Educators Scholarship. Two Northrop students were among the initial 200 recipients announced last spring.
Officials were pleased the scholarship's first year attracted 642 applicants but were disappointed with the lack of diversity, Lubbers said.
The scholarship pays up to $7,500 annually for up to four years to students who commit to teaching in Indiana for five years after college graduation.
“Growing your own has a lot of merit to it,” Lubbers said, citing a study that found more than 60 percent of teachers first teach in schools within 15 miles of their hometown.
As program chair for education at Ivy Tech, Laurie Johnson is seeing an influx of people wanting to become teachers – including those who worked in other fields.
Seventy students enrolled in an introductory class this fall, besting a peak of 55 during the recession, she said. Additionally, she said, she advised three people Wednesday who were transferring into education from other programs.
She understands students might face unsupportive reactions from loved ones when they announce plans to become teachers.
“If it's your passion,” she said, “and there's a need in the marketplace, then keep going.”