The teaching profession in Texas is facing a retention crisis.

Teacher retention has been an issue for the last 20 years in Texas, specifically when it comes to finding individuals certified in bilingual and special education. But more recently, the effects of teaching through a global pandemic have caused major burnout for teachers at all levels, exacerbating other underlying issues such as pay, feeling undervalued, and high-stress working conditions.

“All of those things combined with inflation and lack of purchasing power with their salaries have come together in a way that has a lot of people asking, ‘Can I afford to keep doing this thing that I love, and is this still the best choice for my life?’ said JoLisa Hoover, teacher specialist at Raise Your Hand Texas. “It’s a very sad moment to see people who have dedicated their lives to kids having to rethink if this is something sustainable to them.”

A new state survey by the Charles Butt Foundation found that 77% of teachers have seriously considered leaving the profession, up 19 percentage points in two years. Moreover, 72% have taken concrete steps to do so, from preparing resumes and conducting job searches to interviewing for another position.

Morale has suffered dramatically during this time as well. The share of teachers who feel valued by Texans overall fell from 44 percent two years ago to 17 percent—the single largest change in three years of Texas teacher surveys by the foundation.

There has also been a major roller coaster in terms of how society talks about teachers over the last few years, Hoover said. At times during the pandemic teachers were considered heroes, and other times they have not been well-supported publicly, one of the additional reasons teachers may be rethinking their careers.

“It’s a very personal decision to leave a profession that a lot of people considered their calling,” Hoover said. “While there are some common denominators—like perhaps during the pandemic when there’s been burnout because of shifting conditions—each person leaves the school culture for a very personal reason.”

Teacher pay

The issue of teacher pay specifically has struck a chord with many who are leaving the profession. According to the 2021 Texas Teacher Workforce Report compiled by the University of Houston, the average base salary for Texas teachers dropped 1% to $54,192 from 2011 to 2019, taking into account factors like inflation.

“You can make so much more money doing other things,” DFW-area teacher Sarah Manthey said. “There’s a lot of people who have left because a $5,000 signing bonus sounds great when you’re struggling.”

With the upcoming Texas Legislative session set to convene in January, many teachers and public education champions will be advocating for higher teacher salaries. Higher compensation should be viewed as a sign of respect for teachers who have stayed with districts through difficult working conditions, and as a way to elevate the profession, Hoover said.

“We have to make sure that when you graduate with an education degree, it makes financial sense for the amount you’ve spent,” she said.

When Manthey joined the workforce more than eight years ago, she said it was a challenge to find a teaching job in the metroplex. Now, her district and others are struggling to retain and fill open positions as teachers leave for other roles—many of them paying significantly higher.

“People are trying to find other ways to help kids outside of teaching because it's been so difficult lately,” Manthey said. “There’s not enough people and support to go around, and that’s a beat down.”

Community and campus effects

When long-time teachers leave the profession, it affects more than just staff at the campus—it can be devastating to a community, Hoover said, leading to a lack of qualified mentors and stability in schools.

“When you lose teachers mid-career, we’re losing an asset to a whole community,” she said. “These are people who have relationships with families that go back generations. It’s a wealth of institutional knowledge.”

Manthey said her district and others have been losing fantastic teachers and started the school year with multiple vacancies, ranging from speech pathologists to special education teachers to paraprofessionals.

“A lot of these teachers have built strong foundations in our community, but they can’t handle it anymore,” she said. “You can’t blame people, we’ve been put through the ringer.”

In some schools if turnover is high, then it can affect the amount of mentors who have more than just a year or two of experience.

“We will just simply have people who are being mentored by someone who just got into the profession themselves,” Hoover said. “Principals also rely on teachers to help with decision making, and that’s easier to do when you have experienced teachers.”

Manthey, who does not plan to change professions, said the biggest motivator to remaining a teacher during challenging times is the kids.

“That’s a big reason you have to keep in the back of your mind right now,” she said. “When you see the newfound hope in these kiddos' eyes when they come to school, they’re here to learn to read and write and play. That’s why I do it. It’s about being an impactful part of their lives that makes it worth it.”

What can be done?

While school districts can be limited when it comes to financial decisions, the Texas Legislature has both a financial and policy impact on rules governing public schools in the state, including funding per student, and the ability to spend money on initiatives like increasing salaries. The legislature can also influence working conditions, such as what training is required for teachers; the amount of paperwork required for accelerated learning; and other policies that impact schools.

Ahead of the upcoming legislative session that begins on Jan. 10, Raise Your Hand Texas has worked with the community and local teachers to identify several policy recommendations focused on teacher retention:

• Invest in additional teacher recruitment strategies, including scholarships for aspiring teachers

• Strengthen teacher development by raising the standards for all education preparation programs and providing meaningful professional development opportunities

• Support teacher retention through increased compensation and benefits packages, adequate administrative support, and sustainable work environments

Over the summer, the Raise Your Hand Texas statewide team of regional advocacy directors were out across the state listening to teachers and asking what keeps them in the profession, or what they wish would change during the upcoming legislative session in an effort to work with both lawmakers and the community to elevate teacher and student voices.

“We can build the most beautiful schools in our communities, but if we can’t hold our teachers in the career, we’re just going to have pretty buildings,” Hoover said. “It’s really important we are focusing on how we retain our teachers, because we can’t have just buildings. We need educated kids, and to make that happen we’re going to need really strong teachers.”

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