As the 2022-23 school year approaches, Texas public school districts are struggling to fill teacher and staff vacancies.
Patryce Zarraga and Diane Birdwell, two former educators, spoke to KERA News last week about the staffing crisis. They claimed that returning to in-person classes after long stints of virtual learning due to COVID-prompted school shutdowns presented multiple challenges.
Zarraga stated that this contributed to her decision to retire earlier than she would have preferred.
“Actually, at the beginning of the year, I had wanted to stay a couple of more years to 65 or 66, so I could be getting my Medicare and Social Security and stuff like that. I couldn’t do it,” the 18-year Spanish teacher said.
“Forget the learning loss. The mental health loss that we had with the kids and with the staff was just phenomenal this year.” It was overwhelming, veteran teacher Birdwell indicated, “The scope of it and the depth of it, how many kids I had just breaking down in the hallways or crying in class because they just were used to not being at school for a year and a half.”
Learning loss was staggering amongst many schools, but DISD saw worse scores than most. After students returned from a year of remote learning, districts were not rated for their STAAR results, but if they were, DISD’s scores would have received an F. The district had an overall 60% passing rate for the 2020-2021 academic year, the lowest DISD has scored since the exam’s inception in 2012.
Zarraga stated students from her class were “belligerent” when she returned to teaching in person. Some students would curse and act angrily, and others did not respond at all to her teaching efforts.
“So we either had the kids coming back that were used to just being at home doing nothing, and they wanted to do nothing, or we had the really belligerent kids,” said Zarraga.
Early retirements took a toll on teachers’ ranks, but districts are also having a tough time retaining new hires, particularly those who went through an alternative certification program, according to The Texas Tribune.
Gordon Mock left teaching after just two years of working at the Spring Independent School District outside Houston. He thought he had a future in education but became disillusioned with the profession after enduring unruly class sizes, high health insurance premiums, and a lack of guidance and support from administrators and veteran teachers.
“Why am I going to worry about 25 or 30 kids when I have my own family to worry about?” Mock said to The Texas Tribune. “The existential anxiety there is really kind of what drove me away.”
Andrew Kirk, a history teacher at Dallas ISD, told KERA News, “I’ve seen classes of up to 40 in one room. It could be the entire semester.”
He warned of “crowded classrooms, and probably a lot of instability.”
The scale of the shortage is becoming evident as the summer break draws to a close. Dallas ISD, Houston ISD, and Austin ISD are still looking to fill vacancies before the new school year starts. Dallas and Houston ISD are both short around 1,000 teachers. Austin ISD has more than 500 vacancies. The third largest district in Texas, Cypress-Fairbanks, still needs to hire approximately 700 teachers before the new school year, according to KERA News.
As reported by The Dallas Express, Dallas ISD is trying to address its shortage by entering into a partnership with Teach For America, which would provide 100 largely “alternatively certified” instructors to staff Dallas ISD classrooms.
Dallas ISD had a 13.8% teacher turnover rate for the 2020-2021 school year, topping even its student dropout rate, which was 11.4% for the class of 2020 — two times greater than the state average.