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The Journal Gazette

  • Photos by Chad Ryan | The Journal Gazette Alexandra Stanley, left, listens to Brock McCartney’s answer while Natalie Yoho, Lillian Hennessey (mostly hidden) and Blair Burritt sit in on an exercise of grouping similar items Tuesday at Garrett’s JE Ober Elementary. Stanley, bucking the trend, is an IPFW elementary education major.

  • IPFW has seen its education enrollment drop by 40 percent in the past five academic years. But students such as Stanley, here helping the Garrett pupils with their grouping exercise, still are interested in getting into teaching.

  • Carol Lindquist

  • Chad Ryan | The Journal Gazette Alexandra Stanley works in the classroom under a supervising teacher at Garrett’s JE Ober Elementary School. Stanley’s college, IPFW, will host a Crucial Conversation in November on the declining teacher population.

  • Chad Ryan | The Journal Gazette Alexandra Stanley, an IPFW elementary education major.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016 7:31 pm

Class action

Carol Lindquist

"I always wanted to be a teacher, but..."

Young adults exploring their career options at IPFW frequently make this statement during initial meetings with College of Education and Public Policy faculty whose specialty is preparing the next generation of teachers. Although thousands of teachers in the region can attest to the deep personal satisfaction that can be found in the profession, there is no doubt that enthusiastic and capable young people are cautious about entering its ranks.

As federal legislators move steadily toward reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, formerly known as No Child Left Behind, Indiana and other states are pondering the reasons for and effects of fewer people wanting to be schoolteachers.

Are new professions creating opportunities more appealing to the younger generation? Was this consequence intended all along to open the market for alternatively trained educators? Or is this the confluence of multiple well-intended efforts that have toppled teaching from its revered community role?

‘Teaching matters’

Indiana’s response to this issue will forever change the lives of our children because the response will determine the quality and character of those who spend the best hours of each school day shaping the thinking and behaviors of our children.

It has been said that teaching is the profession that prepares all other professions. It also prepares children and youth to lead our communities, live as our neighbors, and make decisions that shape our daily lives. Teaching matters.

This summer the Indiana Department of Education reported a near 18 percent decline in the number of people seeking initial teaching licenses over the last five years. Ball State reported a 45 percent reduction in its elementary education program just as P-12 schools worked feverishly to fill teaching vacancies.

While remaining stable in recent years, enrollment in the IPFW undergraduate teacher education programs declined 40 percent between 2010-11 and 2014-15. The question has been asked by every media outlet – what is driving people away from one of the most influential community roles, classroom teaching?

As Rep. Robert Behning and Sen. Dennis Kruse have led the Indiana General Assembly Education Study Committee in examining why fewer people are choosing to become teachers and as State Superintendent Glenda Ritz has engaged a 49-member committee to examine ways to recruit and retain people to the profession, the general public must remain aware of their work and the recommendations they produce.

Pundits predict yet another political meltdown, that their findings will collide into competing responses to the detriment of the original issue.

The future of Indiana schoolchildren might be better served by applying lessons from the Indiana school reform model. That model includes determining where you are on the path to your targeted goals, working collaboratively with all stakeholders to determine what strategies will move you closer to your targeted goals, then providing the support for those strategies so they have maximum opportunity to be successful.

Dual approach

Effective teaching is a function of two equally important and inextricably woven components – strategies and conditions.

Strategies are professional technical skills that enable teachers and schools to provide an appropriate education for each student. Based upon newly revised academic standards, reform efforts have focused on improving the technical expertise of teachers to build personalized learning experiences for each student, using data from multiple assessments to fully understand and provide what is needed by each student and then ensuring that unique student needs are met.

Schools monitor teaching performance daily and teachers use professional feedback to improve their work. The very best outcome of NCLB is that teachers across the country have abandoned teaching everyone in a class the same thing at the same time. Technology has opened infinite possibilities for making learning experiences real and relevant, piquing student interests in rigorous learning.

Teachers have adapted to and embraced the expectation for teaching all students to high levels. Through extensive efforts of local schools and districts, state training, professional association workshops, and the countless hours of individual teachers to grow their professional skills, the strategies for effectively teaching the range of students found in Indiana classrooms are working.

Years of focused effort to understand the learning processes of children and youth in a multicultural, technology-driven and data-rich world have created a teaching force in Indiana of unprecedented strength and expertise.

But strategies alone are insufficient for effective teaching. The state and local communities must protect the teaching and learning environment if students and teachers are to do their best work.

Physical, emotional and political conditions enhance or deter the pace, depth and sustainability of learning. When teachers are distracted from their primary task of teaching by frequently changing learning targets, unknown or inadequate lifetime earnings, a narrowing of the curriculum, professional evaluations based on unstable student data, lack of teaching resources, increasing expectations for addressing societal issues, casual derision of the profession as a whole and similar concerns, the value of their teaching strategies is compromised.

Teachers have demonstrated their professionalism in learning new ways to teach all students, but insufficient teaching conditions prevent those strategies from reaching their full potential. Insufficient working conditions negate the positive benefits of effective strategies.

Action plan

Investigating the reasons for fewer and fewer people considering classroom teaching requires an analysis of what is needed contextually for a teacher to accomplish the expectations of the job. Included in that investigation must be the young people who have the opportunity to move into the profession but are choosing not to do so.

Both groups examining the effects of state reform on current and future teachers must look at the professional skills required of teachers and the conditions that enable those professional skills to flourish in service of all children we are committed to educating.

Toward that end, the IPFW College of Education and Public Policy lives its pledge to Do Public Good as it launches the first in a series of Crucial Conversations that examines Getting and Keeping the Best Teachers.

Hosted at the university and moderated by Andrew Downs, director of the Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics, the initial conversation will be at 7 p.m. Nov. 12 in the International North Ballroom.

The interactive format provides education stakeholders with the opportunity to understand what is expected of teachers and the opportunities we have to provide support for the important work they do.

Whether or not the predicted teacher shortage is a catastrophe or an opportunity depends on how we as citizens of Indiana expect those in legislative and school leadership positions to address this issue.

Research has documented time and time again that a classroom teacher has the greatest effect on a child’s learning in the school setting. Attracting the best teachers to the profession, training them to meet the rigorous demands of today’s complex classrooms and supporting them so they can be successful each day should be our top priority.