Teacher layoffs lead to teacher shortage in San Antonio

From Texas Public Radio:

This is the first three-part article on the teacher shortage in San Antonio. Read the second and third parts.

Erin Deason had to fill more teacher vacancies this year than in any other year in her nearly two decades as principal of Jackson High School in northeast San Antonio.

Seventeen of her teachers quit or retired at the end of last school year, but she counts herself lucky because she was able to fill 15 of those positions by the start of classes in August.

“There are a few schools that still have a lot of teacher vacancies. I’m lucky it’s only two,” Deason said.

Jackson began the school year without two special education teachers and five assistants. A couple of weeks later, they also lost their librarian.

During a tour of the school, Deason pointed out the locked doors of the library.

“We’re hoping to fill this position fairly quickly so we can get the kids involved,” Deason said. “It’s usually a pretty active place.”

Dison said the biggest impact of her job openings — other than the closed library — is the few big classes and extra responsibilities added to some teachers’ schedules. Because they don’t have enough assistants, teachers instead provide a second pair of hands in these classes.

“Since COVID came along, we’ve all been taking on extra work – I guess that’s just part of the job,” Deason said. “And so I always want to make sure that my employees, who are here and work every day, don’t get too much.”

One of the reasons San Antonio is struggling to find enough teachers this school year is because many districts experienced a spike in layoffs at the end of last school year. Last fall, the districts struggled to fill all their vacancies, but this year there are even more vacancies.

Jackson is in the Northeast Independent School District, where the number of teachers fired was twice the normal rate at the end of the 2021-2022 school year.

“There were about 334 in 2018,” said Chayla Whitton, director of human resources for North East ISD. “In 2021, there were 361 of them. So the difference is small – it seems to be in a trend compared to what we saw. This year we have resigned more than 700 people.”

Northeast is not the only county with such an unusually high turnover rate. According to TPR’s analysis of data from a dozen San Antonio school districts, 56% more teachers quit this summer than a year earlier. Thus, there are more than a thousand vacancies left in San Antonio schools this summer.

Why? It’s no secret that teacher morale is low.

Billy Cano quit teaching this year nine weeks into the school year. He was a 12-year veteran at Kruger High School as well as North East ISD.

“The mistake I made was that I knew. I knew that last year I graduated and I shouldn’t have signed a contract for this year,” Cano said. “Your teachers are not okay. They need help. They need support, financial, emotional – your teachers are not okay.”

Kano is a trainer-instructor and head of the Department of English Language and Literature. He said that in a typical year he would teach a maximum of two classes so that he would have time to support other teachers. But this year there were three vacancies in his department, and he taught five classes.

“I was able to do it when there were two classes,” Kano said. “But these extra classes that were there, I was tired.”

Kano said he spent hours every night working on administrative duties that he didn’t have time for during the day, but the last straw for him was when his father got scared for his health and ended up in the hospital.

Since his department is already short of three teachers and finding replacements is now very difficult, Kano didn’t feel like he could take time off to visit his father.

“When you make teachers do so much, you are pitting their guilt for abandoning their fellow teachers and the children they teach with guilt for not spending time with their families,” Cano said. “Families will win at some point. And that’s what happened to me.”

Two surveys of Texas teachers released earlier this year showed that a huge number of teachers are considering leaving. The turnover data for San Antonio shows they’ve made it to the end.

Now the districts must figure out how they can convince more of them to stay in the classroom.

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