The Journal Gazette
Sunday, November 07, 2021 1:00 am

Schools go to college amid teacher shortage

FWCS eyes mid-year grads for 1st job fair

ASHLEY SLOBODA | The Journal Gazette

Schools hungry for teachers – including substitutes – aren't waiting to pounce on December education graduates.

Student teachers from Purdue University Fort Wayne, Trine University and University of Saint Francis have already been approached about post-graduation employment, university officials said last week.

“The demand is as high as it has ever been in recent years,” said Mary Riepenhoff, assistant professor and director of the Division of Education at Saint Francis. “The shortage is real. As one superintendent explained, not only is there a shortage of teachers, but substitute teachers are a challenge to find, too.”

Fort Wayne Community Schools hopes to attract mid-year graduates still considering their options through a virtual job fair Tuesday.

Teacher Interview Day is the urban district's first attempt at hosting a teacher-specific job fair. FWCS previously has participated in recruiting events hosted by other organizations, said Kody Tinnel, manager of talent acquisition and retention.

FWCS – a district of about 30,000 students – is interested in talking with prospective employees seeking positions for this academic year and next, even if they want to begin as a substitute, Tinnel said.

The event isn't exclusively for mid-year graduates, he said, but that population is the primary target, particularly those already in FWCS buildings as student teachers.

FWCS had 54 unfilled teaching positions as of Thursday. While that's not ideal, Tinnel said, he considers it a win because the number of mid-year openings is comparable to recent years despite a more challenging hiring environment.

“We are holding steady,” Tinnel said.

FWCS has filled 391 teacher vacancies so far in 2021, he said, adding the district has a total teaching staff between 1,800 and 1,900.

Tinnel said there are about a dozen interview slots for Teacher Interview Day, which runs from 4 to 6 p.m.

“We welcome the challenge if we have more people sign up,” he said. “We will make the room.”

Teachers in 'driver's seat'

Because of its size, FWCS will typically have more job opportunities available compared with other nearby districts, Tinnel said. But that doesn't necessarily mean it has an advantage in attracting December graduates.

“Teachers are in the driver's seat,” he said. “They have options.”

For example, educators might opt to substitute teach and apply during the traditional hiring window if they don't immediately find their perfect fit, he said.

A school's location, programs, use of technology, starting salary and benefits can factor into an aspiring teacher's decision, said Tony Kline, dean of the Franks School of Education at Trine.

Kline is helping education majors become more knowledgeable about employee benefits, such as health insurance, through his student teaching seminar. This week, he plans to use a scenario involving gallbladder surgery to explain terms such as copays, premiums and deductibles.

“I know for some of them, (health insurance) might be the differentiator when it comes down to two districts,” Kline said.

FWCS' salary range is $42,306 to $74,356 this academic year and $43,998 to $77,330 in 2022-23, according to a teachers contract ratified last month.

At Purdue Fort Wayne, students are advised to consider overall pay scale – such as the top salaries and how someone advances on the scale – along with differences in benefits, including health care, retirement and tuition assistance for graduate school, said Isabel Nuņez, director of the School of Education.

There's also value in interviewing with many schools and getting a sense of what it feels like to work there, Nuņez added.

“Are students, faculty and staff welcoming? Do they seem happy to be there?” she said by email.

“I tell students to look for signs that the school ethos fits with their own educational philosophy, perhaps through trauma-informed practice, project-based learning or other approach.”

Finding employment

Many December graduates already have job offers to consider.

At Trine, two of the nine mid-year graduates had lined up positions before November, Kline said. One is staying at the Michigan school where she student taught, he said, and the other is joining an early childhood center.

Four of the five undergraduates expected to complete the traditional education program at Saint Francis have been approached by the school they are in as a student teacher, Riepenhoff said last week by email.

The same is true for many of the 54 student teachers expected to graduate next month from Purdue Fort Wayne, Nuņez said.

She noted that schools also are requesting Purdue Fort Wayne students be approved to substitute teach when needed now that student teachers are past the 10 weeks of supervised student teaching the state requires.

“This eases the shortage of substitute teachers and allows our students to earn some money during what can be a financially challenging semester of student teaching, Nuņez said.

Trine is experiencing similar demands.

“I have never had more requests than I had this fall from schools desperate for subs,” Kline said, adding that college students are usually willing to get the experience and the paychecks.

Supplying the pipeline

Enrollment in Trine's Franks School of Education has increased by almost 150% over the last five years. It now serves more than 200 students.

Kline said the university is excited about the growth.

“It's a tough market to get teachers,” he said.

Saint Francis will partner with area schools to increase the number of high school students and paraprofessionals interested in pursuing education, Riepenhoff said.

Career-changers following their passion to teach have boosted enrollment in Saint Francis' graduate/alternative teacher licensure programs in recent years, she said.

She added the university expects 16 graduate students who are alternative path or master's degree completers will finish in December.

“We can only graduate the students who are interested in becoming teachers,” Riepenhoff said. “Therefore, the number of interested students must continue to grow to address the teacher shortage.”

Teacher Interview Day

What: Fort Wayne Community Schools' job fair for prospective teachers

When: 4 to 6 p.m. Tuesday

To participate:Registration is required for this virtual event; go to for information

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