Education

'They Just Can't Do It Anymore': Texas Grapples with Widespread Teacher Shortage

Some education advocates fear that many teachers have left the field.
Some education advocates fear that many teachers have left the field. Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash
For the past two years, public education in Texas has been in a free fall. The pandemic ushered in rampant learning loss and major behavioral problems. For their part, Republican lawmakers have pushed false claims of critical race theory curricula and pornography on school bookshelves.

Now, with the first day of school fast approaching, education advocates are warning of a significant teacher shortage in Texas.

The past couple of years have worn on people mentally and physically, said Rena Honea, president of Dallas Alliance-AFT union. Some teachers are burning out because of greater workloads, increased class sizes and stress.

“They just can't do it anymore. They need a break,” she said. “They need the districts to be more compassionate, to understand that the learning loss that has happened is not going to come back overnight.”

Texas is far from the only state that’s facing a teacher shortage. The phenomenon is unfolding across the country as experts sound the alarm over the future of public education.

Around 55% of teachers nationwide have considered leaving the field sooner than they’d intended, according to a National Education Association survey released earlier this year. Meanwhile, 9 in 10 of those surveyed reported experiencing burnout.

The numbers are worse in the Lone Star State. Texas AFT union announced in February that two-thirds of educators statewide are thinking of leaving.

Dallas ISD currently has just under 250 teacher vacancies, according to a district spokesperson. District officials are hoping that a job fair on Thursday will help to reduce that number.

CBS News reported earlier this week that according to Superintendent Stephanie Elizalde, around 97% of Dallas ISD’s positions are filled.

Some districts are doing their best to sweeten the deal to attract and retain teachers. Dallas ISD, for instance, is offering $2,000 to new hires, which can be stacked on top of other incentives, such as $5,000 for elementary bilingual education teachers.

Honea said a teacher shortage could lead to larger class sizes, particularly in secondary schools. Districts may face times when substitutes can’t be found to fill in. And if additional kids are packed into other teachers’ classrooms, it could be tough to physically distance themselves during a time when COVID is surging.

There’s “a lot going on for an extremely important field,” she said.

“We need [teachers] that know what they're doing, how to do it, and can work with our kids that want to be in there,” Honea added. “But we're in a very … treacherous time for education.”

It’s not just teachers who are running for the exit. FOX 4 reported in February that superintendents from 10 North Texas districts had quit or planned to leave their posts. Among those who quit was Dallas ISD’s then-Superintendent Michael Hinojosa.

"We fear a bigger shortage than last year." – Clay Robison, TSTA

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Significant teacher vacancies have also meant that certain rural districts are rolling out four-day school weeks. For smaller districts, such shortages can spark a crisis, said Clay Robison, spokesperson for the Texas State Teachers Association.

Robison has heard anecdotally that the number of teachers who quit ahead of this year will be “significantly more than the 37,000 who quit going into the last school year.” But we won’t know for sure just how bad the current attrition rate is until the data is released months from now.

For 2021–22, the state’s attrition from the previous year was around 11.6%, according to Texas Education Agency data. The average rate for the prior 10 years was roughly 10.3%.

Robison points out that teacher salaries in Texas sit $7,500 below the national average, and the pay disparity worsens the longer they stay in the profession. At the same time, some may feel that their health has been jeopardized because of a lack of coronavirus protections, such as Gov. Greg Abbott’s ban on mask mandates.

Abbott has also accused teachers of peddling critical race theory and suggested there’s widespread porn in school libraries, leading to unhappy parents.

“The parents are blaming the teachers,” Robison said. “If you're underpaid, and you're worried about your health during the pandemic, and instead of saying thank you, parents just start showing up at school board meetings and yelling about you — I mean, after a while, the average person can take only so much.”

Teachers with decades of experience who quit may be replaced by those who are new to the profession, he added. The beginning of the school year could be shrouded in confusion, with learning curves for fresh hires.

“We hope that the anecdotal information is exaggerated, but … we fear a bigger shortage than last year,” Robison said later. “And last year was higher than normal.”
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Simone Carter, a staff news reporter at the Dallas Observer, graduated from the University of North Texas' Mayborn School of Journalism. Her favorite color is red, but she digs Miles Davis' Kind of Blue.
Contact: Simone Carter