The teacher shortage crisis is one of the most crucial conversations in the nation involving the public education system. Many education advocates are looking past the obstacles and focusing on tangible solutions to the needs of students, teachers, administration and families.
Leaders from the American Federation of Teachers hosted a round table discussion with education experts and superintendents to discuss short- and long-term solutions. They shared a few recommendations at a live press conference from the Hilton University of Houston hotel.
Education researchers, advocates and journalists have called attention to the growing teacher shortages in the nation’s K-12 schools, particularly in Texas.
According to the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), 43,000 Texas educators left the field in 2021.
Low salaries, poor work-life balance, lack of autonomy in class, professional development, school safety and budget cuts were some of the topics addressed during the meeting.
“One of the huge areas that have been a focus is that the pipeline to education has been drying up. Too many kids have no interest in going into education anymore,” said Zeph Capo, president of the Texas American Federation of Teachers (TATF).
“We are not retaining the ones we got into the classroom for more than a year in many cases. So how do we not just focus on the revolving door, but provide the support necessary to retain individuals once they invest and receive certification?”
Randi Weingarten, president of the AFT, presented a 50-page report titled “Here Today, Gone Tomorrow? What America Must Do to Attract and Retain the Educators and School Staff Our Students Need.”
“We came up with a lot of different ideas, but they fall under several different categories to address the perfect storm,” Weingarten said during the press conference. “How do we keep teachers? How do we recruit teachers? How do we pay teachers a competitive rate so they can live in the communities where they teach? Lowering class sizes? How do we make schools the communities that people and families come to?”
Kimberly McLeod, associate vice president of Economic and Academic Development at Texas A&M University-Commerce, announced its partnership with Texas AFT on the Pride Pathway Program, providing accessibility and opportunity for individuals to compete their bachelor’s or master’s and earn a teacher certificate in a flexible time frame.
“It doesn’t matter when they started college. If they stopped and want to get back, we will accept up to 90 hours,” McLeod said. “It doesn’t matter how old those hours are on a competency-based platform where they can learn online in seven-week semesters at $750 a semester.” That was just one way Capo agrees will “increase the pipeline opportunity without lowering the standards” of the profession.
HISD was present during the meeting to discuss its accomplishments, including the 11% raise it gave educators for 2022 and its “grow your own program” initiative called CTED (Career and Technical Education) in collaboration with the Houston Federation of Teachers and UH.
“How do we ensure from the state level that we have sufficient funding to expand these things?” HISD Chief Talent Officer Jeremy Grant-Skinner said. “Houston ISD mostly reallocated about 7% of its entire budget this year to add $150 million to our employee pay, and we did that at a time when we did not receive any additional state funding for that to be sustainable.”
Fedrick Ingram, secretary-treasurer of the AFT, told the Defender that the shortage of Black educators also impacts public schools that low-income students attend.
“There are three things to keep in mind. In order to retain Black teachers, we have to make sure we have what they need to take care of their families, and with the proper resources they need in schools,” Ingram said.
“We need to partner with historically Black colleges and universities and embrace their schools of education to usher in the best professionals of color, and school administrators can focus on grow your own programs for middle school and high school students. Exposing students to this field needs to start very early.”
Texas AFT solution-based ideas:
- Provide support for staff to transition into teaching roles.
- Create structures to help new teachers learn and thrive.
- Create organizational cultures that help all educators and staff thrive.
- Provide mental health counseling.
- Provide professional support and guidance on teaching sensitive topics.
- Review required paperwork and set appropriate limits.
- Establish compensation systems that align with the needs of current/future teachers and staff.