For second-grade teacher Dina Toland, the workload of trying to fill the learning gaps for the 21 students in her class is becoming overwhelming.
The San Antonio Independent School District teacher often stays after school four days a week tutoring several students who are still reading at the kindergarten level or who have not mastered math concepts in second grade.
That’s after a full day of teaching his students – each of them learning at different levels after nearly a year and a half of virtual education and uneven attendance. She estimates that two-thirds of her students learn below grade level, which is more than in previous school years.
“That’s twice the workload, plus having to rethink the way you approach everything,” Toland said. “You can’t just take out your laminated lesson plans from 10 years ago and go for it. It does not work like that.
In the middle of the school year, San Antonio’s largest school districts are still struggling to find enough teachers, and they are relying on a smaller supply-teacher pool than ever to temporarily fill these vacancies. Teachers resign or retire, leaving behind retention bonuses for health problems or burnout. Districts have raised replacement pay rates to attract more qualified candidates, but many are retired teachers who don’t want to replace on campuses where students aren’t wearing masks.
Wanda Longoria, president of the Northside ISD teachers’ union, said the coronavirus pandemic and the state’s chronic underfunding of public education have created “the perfect storm” for school districts. For years, teachers have asked for more support in the classroom, whether it be behavior specialists, counselors or social workers who can deal with student behavior and mental health issues – or simply more pay. raised.
Now that districts have millions of dollars in federal COVID-19 relief funds, they are looking to fill these positions, only to find that they are competing with other schools for the same specialists.
“Education has been neglected for the past two decades in Texas, and now we are seeing the fallout,” Longoria said.
Staffing challenges are not unique to San Antonio or Texas. The American Federation of Teachers, to which the Northside AFT is affiliated, formed a task force last week to examine teacher and school staff shortages and come up with solutions for districts with “extreme shortages,” according to one. Press release.
Nationally, public education employment fell by 575,000 workers between February 2020 and October 2021, according to the latest employment report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Almost one in four teachers said they were likely to quit their job at the end of last school year, according to a March 2021 survey by the RAND Corporation. This is an increase from an average of one in six teachers who were likely to leave before the pandemic and more than workers in other fields. Black educators were more likely to intend to leave. The survey also noted that a higher proportion of teachers reported feeling stressed and depressed than other workers.
Longoria said the teachers’ union receives calls from members and non-members on a daily basis, asking for advice on how to quit or retire under their contracts.
“They are overwhelmed by the additional demands that go beyond what they were already experiencing,” she said.
If teachers break their contracts mid-year without permission and for cause from their district, they abandon their contracts, which is subject to sanctions by the State Board of Education if their district reports them. The Texas Education Code defines a “good cause” as serious illness of the educator or close family member or a relocation due to a change in employment by their spouse or partner. Without a valid reason, teachers’ certificates can be flagged if they drop out, meaning they cannot teach for a year.
Northside ISD, the largest district in San Antonio with about 100,000 students, had more than 150 vacant teaching positions before the winter recess. The district has never had a school that is not fully staffed at this point in the school year, said Jackie Horras, high school human resources director.
Horras said the pandemic has driven down the number of new teachers entering the profession and slowed down those who allegedly taught their students last school year but were unwilling to do so virtually. But she said even before the pandemic it was becoming difficult to find teachers, especially in math and science.
“There are fewer candidates that are produced nationally, made worse by more openings at all levels in each district,” she said. “We are all competing for a much smaller pool of potential teachers. “
In the 2018-19 school year, 21,869 new teacher certificates were issued statewide, according to the Texas Education Agency. In the 2019-2020 school year, new teacher certificates fell by more than a fifth, to 17,734.
Chyla Whitton, executive director of human resources at ISD Northeast, said the district which serves about 60,000 students has noticed fewer applicants to teach in recent years. But for 2021-2022, the problem has been more pronounced, with NEISD starting the school year with vacancies and more teachers asking to step down throughout the year.
In October, the NEISD board approved a retention bonus of $ 575 for teachers and librarians. Retention allowances in other local school districts ranged from $ 500 to $ 3,000; districts have tapped into their federal coronavirus assistance funds to offer these incentives in an attempt to keep schools fully staffed.
San Antonio ISD will launch a job sharing program for teachers for the spring semester of 2022. The district is hiring certified teachers who would work 3.75 hours per day and earn between $ 140 and $ 155 for sharing a teaching assignment. , depending on their experience and level of education. SAISD will specifically target retired teachers, who may find the half-day schedule more attractive, said Toni Thompson, assistant superintendent of human resources.
“As districts face teacher shortages, we are all just looking to find other strategies to recruit and retain qualified teachers,” said Whitton.
NEISD has also partnered with universities, such as the University of Texas at San Antonio and Texas A&M University, to host career fairs, both virtually and in person. Whitton said the district has performed better at in-person career fairs and plans to hold more in the spring.
But school districts are also using their federal coronavirus aid funds to try to increase staff levels beyond what they needed in previous years, further compounding staff issues. They need more educators to help tackle the learning loss and behavior specialists to fill the social and emotional gaps in students who have developed during the pandemic, Horras said.
“Teaching is hard work, and last year teachers were teaching students virtually and in person simultaneously,” she said. “It was quite a challenge, and now that we’re almost 100% back in person, we’re trying to fill those learning gaps for kids who haven’t been to school for more than 18 months. “
This is exactly the task that Toland faces daily at SAISD’s Advanced Learning Academy in Euclid. But the second-grade teacher has not retired – although she may have after teaching for 29 years – as she is invested in both the teachers’ pension system and her students. During the last school year virtual education, Toland and many other teachers developed closer relationships with families, engaging parents and grandparents to ensure that students connect every day and finish their schoolwork.
“I don’t want to leave all that investment I made (retired), but I also really love the kids. I have a great class this year, ”she said. “A lot of teachers stick around for both the children and the relationships they build with families.”