Several school districts around Texas have faced major staffing shortages amid the coronavirus pandemic. In Killeen ISD, for instance, 57 teachers retired or resigned ahead of the holidays.
While some districts are struggling to hold onto their workforce, Dallas ISD has defied retention expectations.
In November, Dallas ISD announced bonuses of up to $3,500 for eligible staff. The next month, officials reported that the district has the lowest teacher turnover rate in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, compared with market peers.
“With a combination of the retention incentive for staff who return for the 2022-2023 school year and other initiatives supporting teachers and campuses, we believe that our retention rate will remain strong, and we will be able to provide the stable learning environment our students deserve,” Robert Abel, chief of human capital management, said in a statement.
Rena Honea, president of Dallas’ Alliance-AFT teachers union, said she was surprised to learn that Dallas ISD had the lowest teacher turnover rate in the area.
Honea said she’s heard from teachers who plan to leave at the end of this school year. Their reasons include fear of the highly contagious omicron coronavirus variant, an increased workload, heightened stress and physical and mental exhaustion.
Some teachers may ultimately leave because of a return to in-person learning, she added, especially if their own health is compromised. But looking ahead into the spring semester, it’s hard to make predictions about how the turnover rate might change.
“People know they need to work and have an income,” Honea said by email, “but the conditions (some they can control and many they can’t) weigh heavily on many of the employees.”
Since the pandemic began, some warned of a mass exodus of educators, many of whom were expected to teach both in-person and virtual classes simultaneously. Certain teachers reported feeling unsafe in the classroom while battles over school-district mask mandates played out in court.
“The total impact on teacher attrition and turnover from the pandemic — I don’t think we know it yet." – Clay Robison, TSTA spokesperson
On a national scale, teachers are considering fleeing the field at unprecedented rates.
In one study, researchers found that 1 in 5 teachers had either left or actively considered doing so, according to an August article published in Education Week. By contrast, the annual educator-attrition rate is usually around 8%.
But a report by the Texas Education Agency notes that the state's attrition rate for academic year 2020–2021 was 9.34%. That’s lower than the rates from each of the previous nine school years.
Clay Robison, spokesperson for the Texas State Teachers Association (TSTA), said the state’s figures aren’t aligning with what many teachers are telling his organization. “We are hearing anecdotal stuff that some schools are being hammered with turnover,” he said.
Robison thinks that the past year’s rate might be low because some teachers couldn’t afford to retire or decided it was too early to do so.
Dallas’ relatively low turnover rate could stem from the district’s prioritization of COVID-19 safety, and it was the first on record to defy the governor’s ban on districtwide mask mandates, he said. Amid the latest spike in COVID-19 cases, officials announced that students are required to wear face coverings through spring break.
Dallas ISD is a district that’s trying to be careful in considering its teachers, who must deliver in-person instruction, Robison said. School officials’ actions regarding coronavirus safety measures likely signal to educators that the administration cares.
“The total impact on teacher attrition and turnover from the pandemic — I don’t think we know it yet,” he added. “And I don’t think we will know it until at least after this school year is over.”
Meanwhile, when Dallas ISD Superintendent Dr. Michael Hinojosa was asked by NBC DFW about a potential staffing shortage amid the latest COVID surge, he answered that the district had “been through worse.” Moving forward, the district will take things day by day.
"If a campus is overflowing with staff members who can't perform, then we'll shut that campus down," Hinojosa said, according to that outlet. "We will not shut the district down."