One week away from the start of school, Superintendent Diana Barrera Ugarte was still trying to hire teachers.
Barrera Ugarte is the superintendent in Kenedy, a small community southeast of San Antonio, where the school district is comprised of an elementary school, a middle school and a high school.
With a week to go, Barrera Ugarte was still looking for a handful of classroom teachers and special education teachers. That she still has gaps to fill so close to the start of school makes her part of the rule, not the exception.
Teachers are leaving the profession at higher rates than they have before, according to data from the Texas Education Agency. That’s due to several factors, including safety concerns, poor working conditions and burnout. Staffing shortages are forcing administrators to get creative and stretch their resources in order to supervise every class.
For example, there are usually two Spanish teachers at Kenedy, but one of those positions is still vacant. So half the Spanish students will have a full-time teacher, and the other half will not. Instead, they’ll do some of their coursework online.
“But there will be another adult that’s going to be overseeing those kids, monitoring and making sure they’re engaged in their work,” Barrera Ugarte said.
There just aren’t enough people applying to fill those vacancies, Barrera Ugarte said. It’s hard to recruit and retain teachers at Kenedy ISD, even though the district offers good benefits: a salary that’s competitive for the area, 100% medical coverage, and a $100 monthly gas stipend for teachers who live outside the county.
“Many times we’ll have two positions, and sometimes we’ll have three applicants for two positions,” Barrera Ugarte said. “Sometimes we’ll have more; it’s not always like that. But it comes down to, ‘OK, who applied?’ ”
Since the pandemic and the subsequent wave of resignations, educators have been stretched thin covering classrooms and keeping tabs on kids. It’s also forced administrators to hire differently.
Manor High School, in a growing area just east of Austin, had 24 unfilled jobs last year, making work that much harder for the teachers who were there. This year, more than half of its teachers will be new to the campus, thanks in part to a change that the school district made to enlarge its hiring pool.
Normally, you have to be state certified to work as a teacher. But Manor is voiding that requirement: Instead, applicants with a bachelor’s degree can teach subjects they have college coursework in, at the same time as getting their certification.
“The district has done a great job of implementing a local certification program which allows us to find individuals who maybe have a bachelor’s degree and their coursework qualifies them to teach a certain subject,” assistant principal Reynaldo Aguirre said. “So those were individuals who maybe were doing engineering somewhere, and now they’ve decided ‘Let me give teaching a try.’ ”
That’s helped the district avoid having so many vacancies this semester. Long-term, educators and experts agree that the current conditions teachers experience at work can’t continue – but it looks like they might.
A recent poll by the Texas State Teacher’s Association found that 70% of Texas teachers were seriously considering leaving the profession at the end of the last school year – the highest percentage reported in the 40-year history of this particular poll.