One of the reasons I wanted to be a teacher was to be part of a community. I wanted to live where I teach, in the same Indianapolis community that I was committed to growing. “Easy enough,” I thought.
Unfortunately, I was wrong. As I started to look, it became clear that I would have to compromise either a significant portion of my modest salary, or possibly worse, my safety. While it was relatively easy to find new, safe complexes downtown, most of the one-bedroom apartments started at $1,300 per month. According to a recently published Teach Plus memo, a majority of the residents in these complexes make $80,000 a year or more. Needless to say, this was out of my budget.
I ended up renting a home 25 minutes from my school, significantly farther north than the community I serve. Every day, I spend about an hour in the car, making for an 11-hour work day that starts at 6 a.m. and ends at 7 p.m. This is a difficult schedule for anyone, let alone teachers, to maintain.
We are starting to see the effects of this. In Indiana, a growing number of teachers and administrators are leaving their schools. This is especially true for educators who are new to the profession and whose salaries are low. According to a study by the Learning Policy Institute, Indiana’s numbers are among the worst in the nation. The state’s average retention rate for educators is only 82 percent. I know from experience that, when a teacher leaves the classroom, student learning suffers. When they remain, they get to know their students’ families and the greater community, which contributes to overall student achievement and growth.
Two local organizations, Near East Area Renewal and Teach Plus, with support of Mayor Joe Hogsett, are trying to address this problem in a new, creative way. Teacher’s Village, a cluster of affordable housing for teachers on the near-east side in Indianapolis, will be only five minutes away from several schools. The idea is simple, but powerful: Teachers are important to the community, and we want them here. Teachers bring a level of civic engagement and care that is highly valued in areas struggling with blight and crime.
Dozens of teachers came to the Teacher Housing Town Hall meeting where the Teacher Village idea was introduced to the community, a testament to the level of interest in the teaching community. I was certainly one of them. I am confident there are thousands of other teachers like me out there who want to live where they teach. Indianapolis is not the first city to do something like this. In Philadelphia, a comparable new teacher village was fully rented six months before completion. Baltimore experienced similar success when it subsidized apartments for teachers, which helped spark development in the surrounding area. Put simply, teachers want this and need this.
After the town hall, I began the process with NEAR Indy to qualify for buying a home. I am excited about the opportunity to fully invest in the community where I teach. If teachers have homeownership and leasing options that are not only affordable but safe, we will be able to have a better work-life balance—but more important, we will be able to fully dedicate ourselves to the communities and the families we serve.•
Duvall is a fourth-grade general education teacher at Paramount School of Excellence and a Teach Plus Indianapolis teaching policy fellow.