This post was originally published on Defender Network

Teachers in grades K through 12 are more burned out than workers in any other industry, according to a new Gallup poll that finds 44% of K-12 employees report “always” or “very often” feeling burned out at work. That number climbs to 52% when looking just at teachers.

Increased work duties during the pandemic, students with mental health challenges and political debates over masks and mass shootings are among the reasons educators say they are under unprecedented stress.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projected that over the next decade, nationwide, there will be over 124,000 openings for elementary school teachers and over 77,000 for high school teachers each year.

Increased work duties during the pandemic, students with mental health challenges and political debates over masks and mass shootings are among the reasons educators say they are under unprecedented stress – and staffing shortages increase the pressure.

The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) found that 79% of preK-12 grade educators are dissatisfied with their jobs.

Randi Weingarten, AFT president called the teacher shortage situation “the worst I’ve ever seen.”

The AFT research result collected by an independent third party found that teachers’ sentiments toward education were worsened by pandemic challenges and increasing political wars in the last two years.

Weingarten shared that teachers did their best to power through the pandemic but were met with frustrations and lack of assistance from the system:

“The pandemic teachers were amazing,” Weingarten said. “They moved to remote with many of them not having really good platforms. You could hear they engaged kids. Parents were very, very grateful. But what has happened is that the politics and politicians have really polluted what goes on with teachers right now.”

Furthermore, morale is at an all-time low as conspiracy theorists publicly attack teachers. Weingarten said teachers face “constant hectoring, being called pedophiles, being called groomers, wondering whether whatever they said, whether they were going to be pulled into a principal’s office if they answered a kid’s question.”

Forty-percent of teachers expressed they would like to leave the profession within two years, given the depressing and hostile ambiance, according to Weingarten.

Houston-area school districts address issue

Teacher shortages continue to linger well before the upcoming school year and area ISDs are making plans to address the issue.

Houston ISD and Cy-Fair ISD are among Texas’ top three largest districts working to provide students with certified educators despite the shortage that could impact them this fall. 

It would be great to be able to have the coverage for my class to leave for an hour during lunch to sit down and just be.

Trina Gaines, Former Pasadena ISD Kindergarten teacher

HISD’s website listed nearly 950 teacher vacancies, while Cy-Fair reported 678. With numbers that high, it is hard to ignore the reasons for the shortage.

According to a 2021 poll by the Charles Butt Foundation, there was a 10% increase from 2020 in the number of teachers who considered leaving the profession for reasons that include work-related stress, feeling undervalued, excessive workload and low pay.

One way school districts are addressing the problem is by fixing the holes in the teacher pipeline. Shortages are common in schools serving poor students where the turnover is high.

Trina Gaines was a kindergarten teacher in Pasadena ISD. She resigned and pivoted into the position as a college and career readiness advisor. After 13 years as an educator, she said the challenges she faced during the height of the pandemic were the last straw.

“I honestly didn’t have the emotional and mental bandwidth to return. I had to break my contract last year, she said. “From the outside looking in, teaching kindergarten looks fun, but it’s far from it. You are constantly assessing the students, changing curriculum to get students to read on a first-grade level. It was too much pressure, and no autonomy.” 

She told the Defender that school districts should do a better job asking what teachers really want. Many want “the gift of time.”

“It would be great to be able to have the coverage for my class to leave for an hour during lunch to sit down and just be,” Gaines said. “As a teacher you have to choose between taking a break and getting things done for the rest of the day. I don’t have to worry about that anymore.” 

The education profession also struggles to attract new talent. There is a sharp decline in teacher preparation programs which leads to districts hiring underprepared educators to fill in the gaps while increasing the demand on current teachers.

“You can only accomplish so much by throwing money at the problem. Teacher shortages are more complex than that,” said Dr. Beth Tuckwiller, associate professor and department chair of Special Education and Disability Studies at George Washington University.

“Teachers need support, they need more qualified instructional assistance. There isn’t enough autonomy on how and what they teach and they are not respected as licensed learning scientists.”

District Strategies

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) reports that since 2014, Texas saw about a 27% decrease in the number of newly certified teachers. Area school districts are developing strategies to address the issue.

HISD announced its Alternative Certification Program (ACP). It is dedicated to recruiting people who don’t have an education background in becoming full-time teachers and is free for candidates who accept teaching positions with the district.

“We’ve had approval for this program for over 30 years…we go under the policies and procedures of the [TEA],” said LaShawn Porter, senior manager of  HISD’s ACP. “Before you can go into a classroom, you need to have at least 150 hours of course work as well as pass the required exams to go into the classroom and our program prepares them for that…After the program we provide them with coaching, modeling, trainings on classroom management, on lesson delivery to continue throughout their entire year.”

Last month, HISD officials approved an 11% raise for teachers as part of a five-year strategic plan pitched by HISD Superintendent Millard House II to keep the district competitive. The starting salary increased from $56,869 to $61,500. The ACP is implementing a competitive salary package of $61,500 with the school district offering up to $5,000 stipends for teachers in critical shortage areas.

In Fort Bend ISD, the district launched an online “ThoughtExchange” in January to address teacher morale and collected feedback from teachers to improve working conditions. The campaign is ongoing and more updates will be announced.

On July 21, the district held a special education hiring event seeking special education aides and certified teachers.

Results from Fort Bend ISD ThoughtExchange

  • Allowed teachers to wear jeans (as long as they are professional).
  • Removed limits on making copies.
  • Made job-embedded professional development artifacts and campus support walks optional. (The two items concern yearly HR required evaluations and are used to demonstrate “proof of performance.”)
  • Consolidated course codes at elementary school level to reduce number of grades entered into grade books.
  • Limited special education students in certain general education areas.
  • Increased stipend for teachers attending Reading Academy to $500.