‘They’re not naive in the face of reality’: New Texas teachers enter a field in crisis


Charles Martinez wondered: “What’s worse than a crisis?”

UT Austin College of Education Dean Martinez says the teacher shortage facing Texas and the United States is a chronic crisis that has only worsened during the COVID pandemic. -19. So he tried to find a term to describe it.

“In fact, I looked it up myself and found that the best word to describe the moment is probably ‘a brewing disaster,'” he said. “A crisis that has become much more difficult in the face of the pandemic and the aftermath of the pandemic and the kind of divisive moments that teachers face.”

According to the Texas Education Agency, the 2021-2022 school year saw nearly 43,000 teachers statewide leave the field, or about 12% of teachers. The previous year, nearly 34,000, or about 9% of Texas teachers, had left the field.

As for what drives teachers to leave the profession, Martinez said salary is a factor, but so is lack of support and limited professional development opportunities.

“Once you’ve endured those early years, you start to think, ‘Well, what’s next for me? Am I going to spend the next 20 years facing the same kind of headwinds that I’m experiencing right now? ” did he declare.

Despite the challenges, Martinez said enrollment in UT’s College of Education has grown and students are aware of the obstacles.

“They are not naive in the face of reality,” he said. “They know the pay is lousy. They know that the challenges are great. But they also know there is a call and a time when that call to be of service to their communities matters, and that is why they are here.

Future teachers expect challenges

Annie Palmer and Melissa Leon, students at UT’s College of Education, are scheduled to graduate in December. Both started with different majors. Initially, Leon was a biology student, but she didn’t like that. She started to think about what she would rather study and she kept coming back to the idea of ​​being a teacher.

“Growing up, I always pretended to play teacher with my little sister,” she said. “So we were printing out extra worksheets and I would say, ‘You have a test’ and I’ll pretend to be a teacher. And that brought a lot of joy.

After changing specialties, Leon was relieved.

“I really felt like that was what I was supposed to do when I changed,” she said.

Palmer’s interest in becoming a teacher stems from the excellent teachers she had growing up.

“I feel so blessed and lucky to have these relationships,” she said. “So giving this to another child is like a dream to me because I know it can totally change the course of your life if you know someone cares about you in the same way that teachers have the ability. to do.”

Although being in the classroom is hard work, Palmer said seeing the students grow has been worth it.

“All those tiny little moments throughout the day — when you leave and get in your car, I want to go back,” she said. “So it’s like you’re struggling all day and you’re so stressed and so tired. All you want is a minute alone and then as soon as you’re alone you’re like, ‘They’re missing.’

Palmer and Leon said it was concerning to see so many teachers leaving the field.

“It made me really nervous and sometimes it made me wonder why am I doing this if every current teacher dreads their job?” said Leon. “But at the end of the day, being there with the students and seeing their growth from beginning to end of the semester is worth it.”

Palmer said she hopes teaching will be a lifelong career, but the difficulties of the field are not lost on her.

“I’m very aware of teacher burnout and I’m very aware that it’s a very difficult career to choose with finances and all that stuff,” she said. “It’s going to be really hard, but I see myself doing it forever.”

Keeping early career teachers in the field

In addition to training new teachers, the UT College of Education also supports and tries to retain early career teachers. The college has a partnership with the Austin Independent School District called Texas Education START that provides mentors to teachers in grades one through three in 14 elementary schools.

Kelly Ocasio, who was a teacher, is one of the mentors, known as the teacher leader. When she was working on her master’s degree, she actually focused on teacher burnout because she felt it herself.

“I know there was stress in the class,” she said. “The biggest stress is the fact that it’s a job for which there is not much gratitude in society. We simply treat our teachers as if they were babysitters.

Ocasio added that as a teacher she was expected to work 12 hour days and always felt like she was late.

“There was just no work-life balance. … On Friday nights, I was literally in bed at 6 p.m. quite physically [and] emotionally drained,” she said. “So I think it all just feels like it’s not a sustainable career that I thought I could do in the long run.”

But Ocasio wanted to find a way to make teaching more sustainable. Becoming a teacher leader with Texas Education START was one way to do that.

“We need to create a workforce where people can grow and become leaders and mentor future teachers themselves,” she said. “But it just doesn’t happen consistently because people are leaving too quickly.”

“I have to do what’s best for me. And if I can’t reasonably live with the teaching profession, I will have to leave this profession as others are doing at the moment.”

Brandi Hartman, elementary school teacher

One of the early career teachers Ocasio works with is Brandi Hartman, who just started her second year as an elementary school teacher at Austin ISD. She said that when she decided to become a teacher, she faced skepticism from family and friends who wondered how she would make a living on a teacher’s salary.

“I had told people, well, I don’t want to work 9 to 5 sitting at a desk, staring at a screen. I would go crazy,” she said. “So with the kids and the students, I’m on my feet and we’re all around the class.”

Hartman said she has co-workers who left last year and supports them to make a change.

“But for me, just because I’m newer, I feel like I have more in me to carry on,” she said.

Hartman said she would like to be a teacher for her entire career, but she doesn’t know if it will be possible.

“The pressures of what the state imposes on us, the districts, the schools and not asking teachers what we need right now,” she said. “I feel like they make all these decisions without really asking the teachers.”

But, right now, Hartman’s students are keeping her in the classroom.

“My students and just see their growth and progress and they just come up to me and say, ‘Oh, Mrs. Hartman, I just did that, I spelled that word correctly,'” she said, “c is just what gets me through this. That’s what I do with my students.

But, she says, she can barely afford to support herself on her current salary. She said raising salaries is one way to address the continued shortage of teachers.

“For me, personally, I don’t know if I’ll be able to do this for 30 years. I really hope I can hold on,” Hartman said. “But with the way things are going, I have to do what’s best for me. And if I can’t make a reasonable living from being a teacher, I’ll have to quit this job like others are doing right now.


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