The month and a half since the end of Indiana’s 2019 legislative session has seen thousands of teachers across the state rush to begin the license renewal process ahead of changes to the requirements that take effect July 1.
The law, House Enrolled Act 1002, changes the requirements for teachers renewing their licenses through a professional growth plan, one of several options available for license renewal. Under professional growth plans, teachers must earn and log 90 professional development points — equating to 90 hours of professional development. HEA 1002 requires 15 of those points be related to career navigation and the needs of employers in the local community either through an "externship" with a local company or professional development programs that partner with local companies to promote local careers and focus on future needs of employers.
The requirement change came as a surprise to educators, leaving some teachers feeling insulted.
“I felt like it was a slap in the face,” said Amy Mitchell, president of the Northeast Dubois Classroom Teachers Association and family and consumer science teacher at Northeast Dubois High School. “A lot of teachers did.”
Mitchell said she understands the need for teachers to be up to date on employment needs since they’re educating the future, but she pointed out that teachers already voluntarily pursue professional development opportunities, mostly in the summer months, or work second jobs or summer jobs.
“It’s not like we’re idle for two months,” Mitchell said.
Teachers also have opportunities for professional development during the school year, with teachers seeking professional leaves periodically throughout the year to attend workshops. Local corporations also offer professional development programs at the beginning of the school year and at times throughout the year.
Greater Jasper Superintendent Tracy Lorey said her corporation would find ways to work in professional development opportunities that match the new requirements, though the bulk of the professional development offered would still be focused on teachers’ content areas, classroom management and instructional methods.
Lorey said she thinks the idea behind the new requirement is good because it will lead educators and community employers to explore how K-12 education relates to careers.
“I think it’s important for us to understand how education plays into that continuum,” Lorey said.
North Spencer Superintendent Dan Scherry said he doesn’t think the new legislation will make as big of an impact as people think. He said for the most part, his staff is waiting to see how the state Department of Education interprets the law and directs local educators to follow it. He also noted that putting the mandate into action will look differently at different school districts, depending on the careers available in that community.
Scherry did note that the constantly changing requirements put on teachers and education make it hard to keep up with everything educators are expected to do. On the one hand, he said, there are set state education standards for every subject that teachers have to meet; then, at the same time, educators are also supposed to stay up to date with employer needs and make sure students are learning those, too.
“It’s very hard to stay ahead of the curve,” Scherry said.
Although the state will oversee how teachers and schools implement the new requirements, Department of Education press secretary Adam Baker said the department “did not push nor ask for this.” The idea, he said, originated with the Governor’s Workforce Cabinet that was created in 2018.
The Department of Education also provided teachers with a workaround of the new law. As long as teachers go into the system and start a new professional growth plan and log one hour of professional development before July 1, they will be exempt from the new requirement the next time they renew their licenses, which could be for up to 10 years, depending on what license teachers hold and when they last renewed.
That workaround led to over 22,000 teachers beginning new professional growth plans in the month of May alone, the Indianapolis Star reported.
Mitchell said she and other teachers appreciate the Department of Education providing a workaround because it gives educators time to see how the law will play out and gives them time to work the new mandate into their careers.
Still, she wishes the new mandate hadn’t passed at all.
“I don’t see it as professional growth,” she said. “I see it as adding to our plates.”