“Schools are always looking for teachers,” is a phrase heard so often when people look into the education field. In fact, most educators never have to worry about finding a job because there might always be open spots in schools. The truth can be said for the state of Texas, which is facing a statewide teacher shortage.
The public school system can be a hectic place to be. The state demands how, when, and in what manner subjects are taught and requires the test scores to see progress. discipline can be tough in a generation where disrespect for authority grows. The Charles Butt Foundation did a poll on teacher’s attitudes and focused on why there might be a shortage. Right now, 68% of educators are seriously considering leaving the field.
The Covid-19 pandemic tested teachers’ creativity on how to keep students engaged over online, keep their test scores increased in the face of missing lots of classes. With all that, teachers had to keep in check with sometimes burdensome health and safety guidelines. Additionally, there are the statewide bookbans in the public education system, and the culture wars on what should be taught in schools.
“Our focus at BISD is teacher and employee retention,” said Dr. Joe Young, Superintendent for Brownwood ISD. Dr. Young noted the importance of teacher retention since the traditional recruitment of teachers is not at play. The school relies on movement into the county, and finding people interested in teaching positions. Most rural towns around the state have the same system of recruitment. Fortunately, Dr. Young noted that there is no crisis of a shortage, but there are spots that need to be filled.
“When compared with the state, we are fortunate that we only have a few openings,” Young added. “We do see an insufficient number of candidates for some positions. There are some teachers who would love to move to open counseling positions or other subject areas, but we are not able to move them because there are no suitable replacements.”
Many teachers feel underpaid, undervalued, and it is leading to the state shortage. Dr. Joe Young agrees, and discusses both Brownwood ISD’s compensations and limits they face for Brownwood educators.
“We cannot compete with urban and suburban salaries. The fact that we are one of only 16 school districts in Texas required to participate in Social Security is another factor. Social Security taxes cost our employees and district an extra 12.4% of their salary. Giving staff an additional 12.4% raise would be great for recruiting and retaining,” said Dr. Young.
“This year that would have equated to an additional $10,340 for a 15-year veteran considering the 6% we gave. Our Board does a wonderful job of pushing the salaries, but with the revenue-capped funding model the state uses, there are few new dollars each year without improved attendance or increased enrollment. When local property tax collections go up (increased valuations) the state offsets that by sending districts less money. The state has a huge interest in increasing property values. Some believe because their local school tax dollar amount went up, the local ISD gets more money. That is not how the system works.”
Additionally, another factor is leading to the shortage. More and more educators are not going to the traditional four year university. Instead, there are more teachers switching to alternative programs. Teachers here can get the certification to teach, without placing their entire undergraduate education upon teaching. However, it is teachers that go through the alternative programs that have a higher chance of quitting the profession.
“We have definitely seen a sharp increase in alternative certification teachers,” said Dr. Young. “When you go through college to be a teacher, there is a long period of time when you are thinking about your choice and learning about how to teach and deal with kids. When you get your classroom, there is a learning curve, but you invested at least four years into this and you are committed to making it work. With alternative certification, you can sign up to be a teacher overnight and likely be hired somewhere the next day. I believe this leads to some false expectations about what the profession encompasses,” Young said.
On the plus side, Dr. Young added, “Without alternative certification teachers, we would be unable to operate in 2022 with normal class sizes. I am grateful for those programs, but they do bring additional mentoring and support requirements from us.”
Brownwood ISD is handling their teaching position better than other schools in the state of Texas. School districts around the state are having to get really competitive to retain teachers, and attract potential teachers. Schools will increase pay, add more benefits, and now this year, several schools in Texas are switching to four day school weeks.
“The switch to four-day school weeks has recently become popular among smaller and rural school districts across Texas that need an attractive incentive to recruit and retain teachers and that don’t always have the financial resources to dish out dramatic pay increases like in bigger districts.”
Four day work weeks are becoming popular around the world, and to be implemented in the public school classroom is not a new thing. “The move to have shorter school weeks dates back to the Great Recession, when school districts were looking for ways to save money.”
Schools in Texas are doing just that. With saving money, and keeping in line with available staff and resources, some schools find that it is the economically necessary thing to do. Others, it is attractive, and gives educators an added incentive to come and work for only four days out of the week. It sounds like a sweet deal actually.
But in practice, what are some of the implications of it? There are those educational experts who are not sure of how it will affect students. There is some research to show that the four day school week might lower test scores. But it is not significant. It is uncertain if this would be due to the fact of cramming in lessons within four days, or if school days would go longer.
Additionally, low income families that rely on the public school system’s free meals will be impacted, along with childcare on Fridays. Furthermore, there is a question if students will have an uptake in criminal activity.
So, for many schools, there will be many things that educators will have to keep note of, and watch out for. There’s a first time for everything.
The thought of a four-day school week has been brought up in Brownwood ISD, but not seriously according to Young.
[Story by Jacob Lehrer]