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Educators are struggling, leaving Texas schools. What can we do to help right now?

Sunday, March 24, 2024

It’s no secret that Fort Worth-area educators are struggling — not just teaching our community’s kids but to even stay in their demanding jobs. We need a solid curriculum, parental involvement and of course, students to fill the classroom, but without teachers — the backbone of education — communities will not have public schools.

At over 20%, the turnover rate for educators for the 2022-23 school year remains at an all-time high, up more than 4 percentage points from the previous year, according to a local teacher group. It’s even higher at some Fort Worth campuses. According to Texas AFT, a statewide teacher group, an alarming 69% of teachers surveyed said they might leave their jobs.

We’ve known that dissatisfaction has been brewing. Lawmakers have attempted to address this but have fallen short. About a year ago, the Governor’s Teacher Vacancy Task Force released a report with suggestions to keep educators from leaving, including discovering patterns of dissatisfaction. The panel recommended pay raises and improving working conditions, among other things.

These seem like good ideas, but implementing them is difficult. Lawmakers had a chance to pass a pay-raise package last year, but it failed after some House Republicans refused to vote for a package that included school vouchers, as Gov. Greg Abbott demanded.

We know from statistics and anecdotal evidence that Texas must pay teachers more. With the minimum salary not even at $34,000, their pay has remained low and stagnant, failing to address spikes in the cost of living, let alone reward a job well done.

That’s not all. Large classroom sizes, a workload beyond the classroom and most of all, awful student behavior that make teachers feel stuck, unsupported or even afraid, have made the job truly thankless. When teachers leave the profession for good, it’s not always about money. It’s about simple respect and being able to focus on why they got into education in the first place rather than a child’s raucous behavior or a looming STAAR test. It’s past time that lawmakers raised pay and began to put in place some of the suggestions we already know they need, such as additional support to handle behavioral issues. However, aside from lobbying legislators and local school boards, between sessions there’s little the average citizen can do. But there is one thing we can do for students now, and that’s encourage them and their parents, as a community.

JD Cashion, a resident of the DFW area, experienced this dynamic himself. A former teacher of 10 years, he now works to help teachers outside of the classroom. He didn’t have an education degree but taught high school math. He told our Editorial Board behavioral issues and lack of pay were the main drivers that forced him out of a field he enjoyed.

“What behavioral issues boiled down to was lack of parental support,” Cashion said. “Not necessarily in terms of not supporting what teachers were doing but parents not actually parenting at home. That is an epidemic.”

We know that family dynamics at home, including everything from poor socioeconomic conditions to parents struggling with mental health or even violence, can be associated with behavioral problems at school. For students to do well at school, they must feel safe and loved at home. For parents to facilitate this at home, they must prioritize their own mental, emotional, and physical health, too.

Children and teenagers must also receive the message at home that poor behavior at school will be addressed at home, with serious consequences. Some teachers report more parents saying that it’s up to schools to deal with discipline or actually become defensive when schools attempt to render consequences to kids. That simply isn’t sustainable.

We need teachers to be able to focus on teaching for our school districts to thrive. Policy can address issues such as pay and class sizes. As a community, we need to help encourage students and parents in their mental and behavioral health. It’s a long, complicated approach, but better student behavior will vastly improve teachers’ experience — and get more to stay.

San Marcos Record

(512) 392-2458
P.O. Box 1109, San Marcos, TX 78666