LAWRENCE, Ind. — There has been a large demand for teachers following the pandemic, but many schools say there is just as much of a need for student support roles like teacher aides these days.

According to the Indiana Department of Education’s online job bank, there are just shy of 3,000 open positions across schools in Indiana. There are close to 800 student support positions open, which include interventionalists, speech pathologists, and instructional coaches.

Those numbers are down from July, but some educators say there can still be challenges filling positions like teacher aides.

The Fortune Academy in Lawrence serves students with language-based learning differences, which can include ADD, ADHD, dysgraphia, and speech impediments. School leaders say their students need specialized instruction all day long.

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Fortune Academy Head of School Vanessa Coles said it can be difficult finding the specialized pool of teachers that their students require.

“It really takes not only a highly trained specialized person, but someone who is in education for the individual student and understands how to differentiate their instruction individually for all their students in their classroom,” Coles said. “So it can be difficult for us to find teachers that are out there that truly understand how to work with our special population of students.”

But Coles said it is not just hard to find teachers. In fact, she said it be difficult to fill teacher aide positions.

“Really, teachers’ assistants are coming along side that teacher and are giving that one-on-one individual help, whether it’s here or in a larger classroom environment, Coles said. “So they really need to be someone that’s in tune to their student’s needs.”

She said a teacher aide needs to be someone who understands if a child is asking a question for a third time, it might not be because they are not listening. It could be because they are not comprehending or understanding a concept, Coles described.

“That’s seeing that student in the moment, knowing what their true need is,” she said. “So even instructional assistants, they’re not just another body in the classroom. They’re someone that’s really coming along their students and getting them the individualized help they need. So that also makes it challenging to find those people who really understand what their job description is and what their responsibility is in the classroom.”

Coles said the challenges from the pandemic really highlighted learning differences.

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“We found that many students are coming to us because COVID really brought to light the difficulties they had or they slipped down academically and really have some catchup to do,” Coles described. “So they needed to look for other services that help fill in those gaps that were maybe created during the difficult time during the pandemic.”

This is part of the reason the Fortune Academy expanded this year and opened up a new location for its high school students. The school serves about 90 high school and K-8 students. Last year the academy had to have a wait list, and now this expansion will allow the school to accept more students in need.

Coles said the expansion will allow the school to take between 30 and 40 more students.

“We know that one in five students struggles with a learning difference that we serve and we know we have just reached the surface of being able to work with those students who need that resource-type help all day long,” she said.

Coles said the pandemic could likely have lasting effects on educators and students.

“I think it will take a while for kids to catch up depending on how it impacted them,” she said. “Some of them can catch up with whatever resources are at their current school, but some kids might need that specialized service.”