AUSTIN (KXAN) — This week, the Texas Education Agency announced it will be adding 24 teachers to its Teacher Vacancy Task Force, which is aimed at addressing teacher shortages statewide.

When it was first established, the task force only had two teachers on its 28-member team.

At the time, teachers like Stephanie Soebe, a fourth-grade teacher in Round Rock, expressed disappointment with the imbalance of teachers versus administrators on the task force.

“I was kind of disappointed when I saw that. Teachers know about the reality of the classroom more than the superintendent,” Soebe said last week.

TEA Commissioner Mike Morath explained, though, teachers were always going to be part of the process, in the form of presenting to the task force. That changed after the first meeting.

“We have teachers that come in front of the task force and sort of opine on their experience,” Morath said. “But during the first deliberation meeting of the task force members, it became clear that rather than just have teachers present to the task force, and in fact, we have an independent teacher advisory group here as well.”

The goal of the task force is to improve both teacher retention and recruitment across the state coming out of the pandemic.

“What we’ve seen during the during the last 24 months is a notable increase in attrition rates. So teachers who are retiring effectively or teachers who are leaving the profession. The annual attrition rate is up about 1% from its historic average,” Morath explained.

In the 2020-21 school year, there were a total of about 370,000 teachers across Texas. That means an uptick of 1% leaving the profession would mean 3,700 more teachers are leaving the workforce annually compared to years past.

“Part of that can be explained right now, because the economy is fairly hot, but it’s also the disruption of the pandemic was difficult. I mean, last year, teachers were teaching roomies and Zoomies, as it were the kids in the classroom and kids that were remote, sometimes at the same time, and that is quite difficult,” Morath said.

The task force will spend 12 months examining what specific operational changes the state can recommend to improve the professional experience teachers have in Texas schools.

“What kind of first year experience do you need to have? What kind of preparation do you need to have to be successful? What are the specific duties and workload that happen each day to make sure that you have enough time to bring your ‘A’ game to your kids while you’re in front of them, but you also have time to sort of reflect, to think about what the kids will need tomorrow?” Morath said.

Lampasas ISD Superintendent Chane Rascoe, who is already on the task force, said he welcomes any hiring help his district can get.

“10 years ago, we would have candidates that would apply numerous candidates, probably 10-15 candidates that would apply for a given teaching position. With COVID, it’s gotten to the point now to where we simply just don’t have applicants to pick from,” Rascoe explained.

He said he’s glad the task force decided to add more teachers.

“It’s hard as an administrator, I’ve been a principal before and moved up to the superintendency. It’s hard to see a group of kids in a classroom that that is not taught by quality teacher, because you simply don’t have the supply that’s there. And as a system, we have to work to fix that issue. And I’m hoping that the work of this taskforce will be able to achieve that or at least make it better,” Rascoe said.

At the end of the 12-month period, the TEA will provide a summation of its findings and offer recommendations to lawmakers in time for the 88th Regular Legislative Session.

In the meantime, school districts can follow updates online.

“Between each meeting, we’ll be posting updates related to promising practices and other sort of best-practice policy approaches that have been gleaned from each task force meeting,” Morath said.

The TEA is currently in the process of accepting applications for the 24 new teacher spots.