KOKOMO, Ind. — During the last few years of Randy McCracken’s career in education, it was getting harder and harder to hire teachers.
“Finding teachers in the sciences, math, and even English was far more difficult than it had been, and some areas it was even harder,” said McCracken, an IU Kokomo adjunct faculty member who retired as superintendent of Western School Corporation in 2020.
He noted that while he used to have between 60 and 80 applications for an open elementary teaching job, that number dropped significantly as well.
Western’s situation wasn’t unique — according to a study by Public Impact, 92 percent of Indiana School Corporations struggle to find qualified teaching candidates to fill openings. That trouble is made worse by a 60 percent drop in individuals entering the state’s teacher preparation programs.
McCracken heard about a program in a Chicago-area school that brought college-level education classes to high school students. He shared the idea with Leah Nellis, dean of the School of Education, about starting a similar program to encourage high schoolers in the region to consider becoming teachers.
“It’s a great opportunity for them to be involved, to see if that’s the direction they want to go, and to earn college credits as well,” he said. “The more we can grow this program, the better chance we have of taking care of the teacher shortage we have now. As teachers in high schools are working with their students, they can encourage students who they think would be great teachers.”
In fall 2018, the Tomorrow’s Teachers program began not only at Western, but at Caston, Kokomo and Logansport school corporations. It allows high school juniors and seniors to complete entry-level School of Education classes, taught by IU Kokomo faculty, and get some early experience assisting in classrooms in their district. They also participate in on-campus events, getting a taste of college life at the same time. The program has expanded since then to include Alexandria-Monroe and Clinton Central schools.
Marlie Chaffee, now an IU Kokomo junior, was among the first to enroll at Western High School. She was nervous about taking college classes in high school, but said it confirmed her desire to teach elementary school.
“I’ve always wanted to be a teacher because I love kids,” she said. “I loved my teachers growing up, and I wanted to be just like them. I knew I wanted to go to IU Kokomo, too, and I saw it as a great opportunity to get my foot in the door.”
She especially enjoyed her experience in classrooms ranging from kindergarten all the way through middle school, which opened her mind to levels she hadn’t considered.
“It was a great opportunity to see what teaching different ages is like,” she said. “I thought I didn’t want to do middle school, but I learned it wasn’t what I thought it would be.”
The connections she built during that program helped her transition successfully to college. Plus, she plans to graduate a semester early.
“When I came to campus, I was more comfortable taking classes,” she said. “I felt comfortable reaching out to faculty when I had questions because I was able to do it during Tomorrow’s Teachers.”
Chaffee was especially impressed when Dean Nellis contacted her to see how her first semester was going.
“You don’t expect the dean of the School of Education to know who you are when you are just a freshman,” she said. “I felt like I was home when I came to campus.”