INDIANAPOLIS – The uncertainty of the school year ahead has many teachers making the tough decision to retire early, leaving schools with the task to fill those gaps.
Education experts believe this could result in a staffing challenge.
“With all of the uncertainty with the virus, just decided, ‘Hey, I can’t deal with this,’” said Steve Wilson.
After 31 years of teaching Spanish, the pandemic led Wilson to retire.
“I guess my horizon was to teach three or four more years.”
Not knowing what the year would look like was the hardest part for Wilson.
“I do know the stress of doing this, it is emotionally really draining for the teachers,” he added.
“They want to be with their students, they want to continue to build those relationships with those students,” said Trish Whitcomb, executive director of the Indiana Retired Teachers Association (IRTA).
“It’s very hard for someone who has spent a career working with students and seeing them mature–seeing them achieve–to step away from all of that.”
She’s heard from educators who aren’t sure what their future holds–whether because of e-learning challenges or health concerns.
“The Pew Charitable Trust had a national survey of educators 55 and over and one in five of them said they will not be returning to the classroom,” Whitcomb said.
The IRTA sent a survey to superintendents across Indiana to see how many teachers are retiring this year; Whitcomb expects the number to be high.
“We haven’t gotten the results back yet and i think part of that is because educators have been waiting to see what’s their school’s reentry plan,” said Whitcomb.
That leads to another issue: the need for substitute teachers who often are retired teachers. Whitcomb thinks it’s highly unlikely those retirees will go back.
“Last year, before any of this started the department of education issued a record number of emergency teacher permits or licenses and I don’t know what that looks like this year. I don’t think anybody does yet,” said Whitcomb.
Although Wilson may not be teaching anymore, his support for his kids will never fade.
“I stand in solidarity with my colleagues who are going back, I am here to support them however I can,” said Wilson, “Help the kids, period.”
This is a statewide problem. At Hamilton Southeastern Schools, for example, more than 140 certified and non-certified staff have expressed concerns related to COVID-19. The district has decided to go virtual until at least Labor Day.
Whitcomb believes the Gov. Eric Holcomb’s mask mandate will help comfort returning teachers.