This column appeared in the Winter 2021-22 issue of The Classroom Teacher.
President's Message by Sherry Miller
As I write this, it’s that time of the year: Children are busy making gingerbread cookies and paper chains to either decorate a classroom Christmas tree or to use as they count down to the winter break. Holiday concerts, winter programs, food drives, book fairs and parties are but a few of the activities that keep students occupied before the holidays. Many teachers and staff members wear Christmas sweaters or shirts that help brighten the mood.
It does not take long, however, to see that the above-mentioned scenarios may not be as they appear. For educators, this has been an extremely challenging year.
Schools are back in session but the academic and social-emotional losses for our students that occurred during the past 21 months are devastating. Teachers are working diligently to try to bring the students to grade level. This process takes time, and, in some cases, skill progression is not being attained fast enough due to gaps in student learning.
Many classrooms in Texas are overcrowded, with 30-plus students, making it difficult for teachers to provide the consistent attention students need and deserve. Additional requirements adding to the workload for teachers may include reading academies, Teacher Incentive Allotment program requirements, PLC assignments, book studies, student testing, and additional after-school meetings, to name a few. All of these “extra” duties take time, which is draining teachers of the energy needed to provide assistance and instruction for their students.
The emotional and physical tolls of the past 21 months have been high. Teachers are retiring or changing careers in record numbers.
Although the teaching profession was already experiencing shortages over the past several years, the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated it. In my district alone, we have close to 300 vacant teaching positions. Some of our current teachers are emotionally and physically drained and cannot continue to teach. They literally have nothing left to give.
Districts across the state have held or attended job fairs to hire new teachers. Some districts are offering bonuses of $1,000 or more to teachers and other employees to encourage personnel to fulfill their current 2021-22 contracts. My district, Killeen ISD, approved an incentive program in December to reward employees not only for staying in the district, but also to help recruit new teachers to fill vacant jobs. Several other districts offer signing bonuses or have increased substitute teacher pay to cover classrooms until enough teachers are hired.
The percentage of educators retiring or leaving the profession is outpacing the number of new college graduates and alternatively certified teachers. This is concerning. What personnel and curriculum decisions/changes will have to be made in the future to educate our children if we do not have enough certified teachers to instruct all of our Texas students? Depending on your district, those issues may already be present. Austin ISD, for example, has considered scheduling changes to help meet staffing shortages.
Years ago, TCTA created “Action Alerts.” Members are notified during legislative sessions when an important bill (often not favorable for teachers and/or students) is up for a vote. TCTA members are encouraged to write letters or call their legislators to explain the impact the bill would have on education and encourage them to vote to support TCTA’s position. In many cases, the phone calls and letters have prevented a bad bill from being passed.
It is important that teachers participate in these calls to action, and even initiate communications with their elected officials on their own. Our Texas legislators need to know the challenges and difficulties that all educators are facing in the classroom. This not only applies to teachers but all educators who work directly with students — our counselors, diagnosticians, librarians, nurses, speech therapists, paraprofessionals, aides and secretaries.
If you plan to leave the profession, please call or write your legislator. They need to know why teachers are leaving and the struggles and experiences that educators face on a daily basis. Our profession depends on it.
We became educators because we want to be part of a child’s life; to help guide them to reach their goals and dreams. I was reminded of this recently, as it was the message on a colleague’s shirt: “Be the reason someone feels loved, seen, welcomed, heard, valued, appreciated and respected.” This is why we became teachers. Our students depend on us.
2021-22 TCTA State President Sherry Miller is a music teacher at Skipcha Elementary School in Killeen ISD. She has been a member of TCTA for 35 years.