16 News Now Investigates: How Teacher Shortages Impact School Safety

Published: Nov. 16, 2022 at 6:30 PM EST
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. (WNDU) - A teacher shortage is impacting schools across the country, and right there in Michiana. But with fewer teachers in classrooms, are students less safe?

16 News Now Investigates talked to a teacher who is sounding the alarm, and says our schools in South Bend need help.

You do have to have a certain ratio of teachers to students, adults to students, all the different adults, to keep things safe. And if you don’t have that, it can become dangerous. And I think that’s happening in a lot of our buildings,” the teacher, who spoke to us on the condition of anonymity, explained.

South Bend Community School Corporation administrators tell 16 Investigates there are 39 teaching vacancies, with 19 positions unfilled in three of the middle schools.

That’s just how it fell for us here in South Bend,” says Sarita Stevens, Assistant Superintendent of Operations/HR. “But in other places it’s across the board. In South Bend it’s not. We’re really focused on these middle schools and getting all of the positions in the middle schools covered.”

But the middle school teacher we spoke to says those vacancies are leading to unaddressed behavioral issues.

“There’s not enough people to deal with discipline, and so kids feel they can get away with lots of things. There’s not enough people monitoring the halls and there’s been quite a lot of fights,” the teacher says.

“Students are threatening each other, threatening teachers. That’s always happened but when you don’t have enough adults to handle each situation as they come up, it starts to grow.”

Administrators for South Bend Schools contradict that claim.

While there are vacancies, we still make sure there are people there, that we have people for supervision,” says Sarita Stevens. “And I have to tell you, in most of our schools, we have stable environments.”

But, administrators do acknowledge they have to work hard to overcome staffing difficulties.

“You really have to focus in on that every single day. You have to be vigilant, you have to get ahead of it,” explains Stevens. “And I have to say, when you have people that call off because they can’t do it any other way in the morning, we have to step in. We have to be ready for that. And that’s what we’re trying to do.”

But the teacher who spoke to 16 News Now Investigates anonymously says the lack of consistency is affecting students and educators.

“I show up to different classes every day. Sometimes I know the students and sometimes I don’t depending on the grade I’m helping with that day. So they’re like ‘who are you?’… All of those kinds of things are leading to teachers quitting or not coming back, being exhausted. In my building, there are very few adults smiling at this point.”

This is leading to worries that some kids will fall through the gaps.

“It’s just a matter of being able to immediately address the behaviors and get students, students who are violent at school, especially repeatedly, they have some kind of emotional issue going on in their lives and they need extra help and extra attention. They don’t need to be suspended or thrown away. But they do need extra help and that’s what we’re missing,” says the teacher.

Sarita Stevens says safety is a group effort.

“That means the collective effort of everyone working together will keep everyone safe. So, it’s a system. Creating the system of safety and stability,” she explains. “You really do have to respect every aware human being and give them a voice. Because they will tell you where the gun is, they will tell you who has the gun, they will tell you who has the mace, they will tell you who has the knife. So, you know, that is why you want to create that relationship no matter how few people you have. You want somebody that has that specific relationship with that kid that they’ll tell.”

The district says they are working to find more teachers, but they are also there to listen, and to ensure schools are being operated safely.

“You want to listen to every voice, says Stevens. “So you do have to respect someone saying that I don’t feel that there’s enough coverage and I feel vulnerable. What we want those teachers to know is we are working very hard to make sure that we’re at full teacher capacity.”

The teacher who spoke to 16 News Now Investigates supports the school’s recruitment efforts and is calling on the community to step in and help.

“It’s not going to magically happen, it’s not someone else’s problem. If you’re out there with a college degree, wondering how to invest your life, your community needs you.”

If you’re interested in apply for a teaching position at South Bend Community School Corporation, you can visit their website to learn what openings are available. The district is also holding a job fair on Thursday, Nov. 17 from 4-7 p.m. at the Brown Community Learning Center.