By STEPHANIE HAYES
A 2022 Gallup Poll found that K-12 educators were the most burned-out segment of the US labor force and a study by the National Center for Education Statistics reported that 44% of public schools reported teaching vacancies. In Amarillo, teachers are dealing with similar teacher shortages and feeling frustration and stress.
Karen Schrader, a newly retired English teacher from Tascosa High School said both teachers and students are suffering due to the shortage. “Teachers are expected to pick up the slack and fill in where they are needed. It wears on their souls, and the students are getting exhausted or teachers who are unskilled and unprepared to teach,” she said. “I think the burnout rate is at an all-time high. Teachers are tired and feel unappreciated. Most give their all, only to be told it isn’t enough.”
Many teachers say that the COVID-19 pandemic has been the main cause of the shortage. “All of these students took a setback from being gone,” Jena Hutton, the audio, video and photography teacher at Tascosa High School, said. “Students came back super behind and also lacked a lot of motivation to work hard. Many of the students don’t care about school, their grades or about literally anything. They are probably burned out too, and teachers see that, but it makes it so difficult for a teacher to want to come to work if they come here every day and it feels like they’re talking to a wall all day without any effort in return.” Hutton also said the emphasis on testing and scores is an issue. “Even in my own hallway of teachers at my school – there are several of us who are really burned out, lacking motivation, just tired of it and have considered leaving the education field.”
Other teachers point to the current political climate and the lack of respect given to teachers. “With heightened politics and political figures, the American people became more opinionated and outspoken, and there are self-proclaimed experts on just about any topic including the education system,” Michelle Switzer, a medical teacher at AmTech, said. “It was exhausting to work through a trial and error pandemic-stricken school year and then to lose credibility to students and parents who know we have to give them ‘grace.’”
Pearl Martin, a former teacher for Amarillo ISD, San Jacinto Christian Academy and Amarillo Collegiate Academy, agreed that the culmination of society’s negative attitude toward public education drives the teacher shortage. Parent dissatisfaction with curriculum, outrageous expectations of teachers, low pay and violence feed into that attitude, Martin said. She also pointed out teachers are losing their leeway with creative teaching due to strict teacher evaluation standards. “Teachers have a positive effect on student’s performance when they are allowed to teach in creative ways through repetition and are not limited in their resources.”
One thing several teachers said could boost retention would be higher pay. Schrader said she believes teacher pay is fair in most places, and, although more money would be welcomed, that’s not the only answer. “Throwing money at teachers won’t fix anything. We have to fix the culture so that education is valued,” she said.