Charlotte Willson is a fourth-grade teacher at Richard Lagow Elementary School, and she is worried about the future of the Dallas Independent School District. In an exclusive interview with The Dallas Express, Wilson addresses teacher burnout and the future of education.
“I know personally many teachers will be leaving,” she said. “Because of income qualifications, we can’t all just leave right now, but the ones who are able to will leave.”
Wilson, who has been a teacher since 2018, remembers the days when she had classroom help. She observes that without the same assistance, teacher burnout is becoming an issue.
“I used to have support from paraprofessionals daily,” Wilson told The Dallas Express. “We had bilingual paraprofessionals and educational paraprofessionals, but the paraprofessionals are essentially permanent substitute teachers at this point.”
That is partly because teachers are leaving the teaching profession in droves or have called out sick, according to KHOU 11.
“I work with some of the best educators, and they are done,” Wilson added. “They are fed up with the lack of support and the lack of people to help the kids. They’re just not there anymore, and these kids are falling behind at a faster rate than ever before.”
She said the trend is alarming, and she worries about the student’s future.
“They’re not going to have teachers who teach if we can’t take the load off the teachers and give them the support necessary,” Wilson said.
Wilson is just one of 90% of educators nationwide who feels that teacher burnout is a serious problem, according to a new National Education Association (NEA) study.
“We have heard from more teachers and even support staff who love their jobs, but because of the virus, the implementation of the protocols to mitigate the spread, the amount of work and the continued meetings over and over, people are just concerned about their own health,” said Rena Honea, Alliance of Dallas Educators President “After talking with their families, many of them just feel they can’t afford to do this any longer. They are retiring earlier than what they planned on, or either they’re leaving the profession and going to do something they feel safer in.”
Honea has noticed a 25% to 30% increase in emails and phone calls from teachers inquiring about their contracts in the last two years.
“They want to know how to get out of their contracts without losing their certification,” she said. “They want to know whether, if they try to leave, they will get in trouble.
Honea, an educator for forty years, hears from other teachers that there is a major concern with shortages and teacher burnout. She has never seen the education industry in such a state. “It is totally unprecedented,” she said.
But according to Texas Education Agency (TEA) statistics, teacher retention has never been better statewide.
For the 2020-2021 school year, attrition was 9.34% out of 370,299 teachers. Compared to an attrition rate of 10.44% out of 357,521 during the 2017-2018 school year.
“I know teacher retention has been a problem in our city and other cities too,” said Kelly Burke, who is running for a position on the Arlington ISD Board of Trustees. “I do talk to a lot of educators, and they all had some of the same concerns. A lot of them were off from work for a long time. So, just for personal reasons, it could be difficult getting acclimated to going back to work as well.”
Dallas is reportedly retaining teachers at a higher rate than other Texas cities, but Hornea is skeptical.
“We received notice from the district just a few weeks ago that Dallas has retained teachers more than anybody in the state,” Honea told The Dallas Express. “Personally, I think numbers can be twisted any way you want them to.”
Dallas ISD Human Capital Management offers incentives ranging from $2,500 to $3,500 for the 2022-2023 school year to retain teachers, contingent on their effectiveness.
“The situation with the teachers being disgruntled and quitting could be easily fixed if there were more money allocated,” Rev. Charles Johnson, executive director of Pastors for Texas Children, told The Dallas Express. “They need public support, money, and funding. Get rid of all the privatization. We’re not able to focus on the positive and the proactive because we’re always playing defense against a testing bill, against a voucher bill, and against a charter policy that diverts public money to private entities with very little oversight and accountability. Get rid of those distractions.”
Pastors for Texas Children is a Christian organization based in Fort Worth that supports pro-public school policies.
“Parents and pastors and congregations all over Texas are saying enough is enough,” he said. “We want the governor to wrap his arms of compassionate care around our 1.2 million active and retired school teachers and provide for them.”
Johnson said teachers are the ones that have sacrificed on behalf of the State and the 5.5 million public school children in the state of Texas.
“Give them what they deserve,” he said. “Do your constitutional duty to make suitable provisions for public schools.”
A national study also found that 55% of educators said they’re ready to leave the profession they love earlier than planned.
Jennifer Winter of Innovative Teachers of Texas (ITT) said currently, almost 5% of the organization’s members are planning to resign from public education.
Winter said that teachers are resigning “to pursue other careers or private practice in education.”
According to the NEA study, approximately 74% of those surveyed said they have had to fill in for colleagues due to staff shortages. According to Rena Honea, that number includes instructional administrators who are being deployed to the classroom to cover for teacher shortages.
Honea said that in Dallas, the district has needed to resort in some cases to utilizing administrators in the head administration office to provide teaching support to campuses that are significantly affected by teacher shortages due to COVID.
“So, they’re having to deploy some instructional administrators to go into the classroom to cover the classes,” Honea said.
According to media reports, in some school districts, such as Hays Consolidated Independent School District, parents are being called on to work as substitute teachers.
“Many of the substitutes are retired teachers who have health issues, some tend to be older, and they don’t feel like they can afford to be in those situations,” Honea added. “So, having substitutes would be a luxury at this point for many of the campuses.”
The NEA study further found that 80% of teachers said unfilled job openings have led to more work for them.
“It’s bad now, but it’s going to be increasingly harder next year,” Wilson added. “I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of Dallas schools won’t be even close to fully staffed because they are leaving the district because there’s no support. Other districts have put interventionists in place. They hired, with their ESSER funds, interventionists. Dallas didn’t do that. I don’t know where the money went.”
The U.S. Department of Education notes on its website that the ESSER Fund was established as part of the Education Stabilization Fund in the CARES Act to address the impact that COVID-19 has had on schooling.
The Dallas Independent School District did not respond to requests for comment from The Dallas Express regarding the utilization of their ESSER Funds.
“That’s one of the biggest questions I want to know,” Burke told The Dallas Express about ESSER Funds. “I’ve been closely looking into Arlington schools and where our funds were issued and where those funds are going. I don’t think they were allocated to our school system because we’re having the same problems here.”