Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect a study showing data covering the ten-year retention rate among first-year teachers in Texas.
AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Teachers in Texas are leaving their jobs at increasingly higher rates, an issue education advocates say is contributing to workforce and staffing issues.
The National Education Association and National Parent Teachers Association called attention to this issue in a press conference Thursday, highlighting the need for more resources and support of educators.
A 2021 teacher workforce report from the University of Houston and Raise Your Hand Texas Foundation highlighted the concerns with retention rates. It showed that nearly half of the Texas teachers who started teaching in 2010 had left the profession by 2020.
“This was a challenge even before the pandemic when experts projected yearly shortfalls of over 100,000 teachers — the result of low pay, high stress, crumbling schools and challenging working conditions,” said Becky Pringle, president of the NEA.
Elisabeth Meyer, a special education teacher with Austin ISD, said she and a number of her colleagues are considering pursuing a different career path as the challenges become too much to bear.
“We are having to shoulder the burden of social problems. We have students in our classrooms that need counseling and need some psychological support that we’re not prepared to take on,” she said. “It’s heartbreaking to see that because we want the best for our students, and we want them to be healthy.”
One in four teachers in America considered leaving their job by the end of last school year, according to a survey by a nonprofit, non-partisan research group, the Rand Corporation.
“I just need people to start listening to me and to start understanding that we know what we’re talking about as teachers,” Meyer said. “Because what’s going to happen is all of the teachers that really love it and care, we just can’t do anymore. And we’re gonna be in a serious crisis in a year or two.”
Aside from burnout, schools across Texas and the nation are facing shortages due to coronavirus outbreaks, fueled by a surge of the omicron variant. Those shortages have led to school closures, forcing parents and students to quickly change plans and revert back to online learning.
“Ninety-six percent of our schools [nationwide] reopened to in-person learning right after holidays and within a week, so many of them had to close down. Not just because of the spread of omicron, but because we just couldn’t get enough staff,” Pringle said.
In addition to teachers leaving after their first year, Pringle said they are also seeing droves of educators leaving mid-year.
“This is the tragic consequence of decades spent chronically underfunding education and shortchanging students,” she said.
Since 2010, annual base salaries for teachers in Texas have only fluctuated by plus or minus, a few thousand dollars each year.
“When you do not pay professionals in a way that reflects the important work they do for society, that has an impact on the way they believe they are seen by society,” Pringle said.
The Texas teachers workforce report gave a lengthy list of recommendations based on the findings — many of which suggest the state invests in more data collection and analysis to better understand these trends and better inform policymaking.
One key finding of teacher mobility and retention found educators were more likely to move to more well-funded campuses with students coming from higher economic backgrounds.
“Texas teachers are more likely to transition from campuses with higher levels of economic need than campuses with lower levels of economic need. This trend is concerning as it leaves students most
in need particularly vulnerable,” the report said.
While the NEA, PTA and report all highlighted the far-ranging issues facing educators — all noted that the problems end up hurting far more than just teachers.
“If we don’t address the well-being of educators, then the well-being of our students will suffer,” Pringle said. “Their learning, their growth and development and whether or not they will thrive and become those leaders we know they must be — those critical thinkers, those problem-solvers — we know the impact it will have on our students.”