Texas Faces Massive Teacher Shortage
Monday, April 18, 2022
Currently, there are more than 10,000 job openings to teach in Texas. The state has faced a teacher shortage for years, but it became worse during the two-year pandemic.
Educators say there are ways to reverse the trend - and one is to add more support for teachers' mental health. Former second-grade educator Shelbi Varnell said the workload and stress of having to manage multiple responsibilities at the height of the pandemic finally drove her to check herself into a hospital.
"It got to me in such a way that I felt so overwhelmed, and so just defeated that I was crying," said Varnell. "And my daughter came to comfort me and she said, 'You're not going to leave me, are you?' And I couldn't give her a straight answer, so I put myself into the hospital."
Varnell said she didn't feel supported by her district and, as a single mother, it was tough to teach virtually and make lesson plans at home while her own child was sick.
In March, Gov. Greg Abbott ordered the Texas Education Agency to create a Teacher Vacancy Task Force to work on the issues of attrition and retention, and how to better support educators.
Teachers say not only do they grapple with massive amounts of paperwork and face restrictions about what they can teach and say without risking their jobs, but low pay levels prompt many to juggle multiple jobs.
Coretta Mallet-Fontenot, who teaches 11th-grade English in the Houston Independent School District, said the switch from in-person to virtual learning made it harder to keep up with the curriculum and required testing - and also brought new challenges for her students.
"They too had to go to work when their parents contracted the COVID, and it became clear that COVID was striking elderly people, you know, harder than the younger folks," said Mallet-Fontenot. "Many of my students had to go work in order to help their families maintain."
The Teacher Vacancy Task Force will meet every other month for one year, and includes current classroom teachers and school administrators.
Mallet-Fontenot said she believes all professions start with good teachers. She said she's convinced that barriers can be removed, and said adequate pay is a way to show respect and value for the teaching profession.
"We don't want to just have a living wage," said Mallet-Fontenot. "We want to have a thriving wage. You know, there was a time in America where being a teacher was a very well-respected career."
Recent figures peg beginning teacher pay as low as $29,000, up to $41,000 a year. And research in 2020 found as many as four in ten teachers work second jobs.
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