More teachers report wanting to leave the profession this year more than ever, according to a new statewide poll.
They report feeling undervalued, underpaid and overworked. Signaling some hope, however, teachers also provided possible solutions to those challenges.
“We named the poll ‘Persistent Problems’ because these [issues] are not necessarily caused by the pandemic,” said Victoria Wang, senior research associate for the Charles Butt Foundation, which launched its first Texas teacher poll in 2020. The pandemic has clearly exacerbated a lot of those challenges, she said, “but a lot of this is not new.”
Teachers have borne the brunt of many divisive social issues over the past several years, from fights over mask and vaccine mandates, book bans, how history should be taught and rising gun violence. They now face students with deep yet uneven pandemic learning gaps.
“There was little to no support, lack of mask mandates, pressure to make students come test in person for STAAR,” said one high school teacher in South Texas. “Colleagues passed away due to COVID and we received no support, not even grief counseling.”
Shari Albright, president of the Charles Butt Foundation, said its third annual report is the only random-sample, statewide polling of Texas teachers, and provides insights into challenges they face and what actions can be taken to strengthen the profession.
The foundation randomly selected more than 35,000 teachers from the Texas Education Agency’s 2020 list of 376,007 public school teachers, inviting them to take the survey between April 4 and May 16 of this year.
Those surveyed included at least 100 teachers in each area: East, West, and South Central regions; Black teachers; those age 60 and up; and those with no more than two years’ experience or younger than 30. White, Black and Hispanic teachers participated in the survey.
Of those surveyed, according to the report published Thursday, just over three-quarters indicated they have seriously considered leaving the profession, compared to 58% in 2020. Among those who have seriously considered leaving, 93% have actively taken steps to leave the profession within the past year, by preparing resumes and attending job interviews.
Pay is a major factor
Up 12 points from 2021, 81 percent of Texas teachers said their pay was unfair, according to the poll.
Nearly all teachers who participated in the survey — 98% — said they spend a median of $500 on classroom supplies, while 75% said they spend a median of $200 on other students’ needs, such as food or clothing. To make ends meet, 41% of teachers said they work an additional job due to financial need, in most cases, during the school year.
Teacher morale has plummeted. In 2020, 44% of teachers said they felt valued by Texans. This year, that score fell to 17% — the single largest change since the survey began. In that same period, the percentage of teachers who say they feel valued by elected officials fell from 20% to 5%. Even fewer teachers reported feeling valued by their administrators, parents and communities.
“Lack of dignity, respect, and inclusion in decision-making that directly affect[s] how I spend the majority of my life,” said one Central Texas high school teacher. “Generally undemocratic structures. Being consistently confronted with the fact that I and my peers have extremely relevant information that we TRY to communicate and is rarely acted upon.”
Most teachers reported having too many non-instructional tasks and responsibilities, which 86% of teachers reported affected not just them but their students’ learning. More than 80% said lack of planning time was an obstacle to their teaching effectiveness, a similar percentage reported feeling pressure about students’ performance on standardized exams.
“My students deserve great lessons,” wrote a West Texas middle school teacher. “I know what my students need most; I just need time and freedom to analyze data and create effective plans to meet their needs.”
Possible solutions, according to teachers
Though many teachers have seriously considered quitting, Albright said, the workforce overall remains passionate and motivated by a desire to make a difference and help students reach their full potential.
In the survey, Texas educators reported actionable retention measures that could help keep them in the profession: Four-fifths said having a say in district and school decision-making would make them more likely to stay in the classroom. Just 16% of teachers said they currently have that already.
Teachers reported they would like to see an improved work culture, autonomy as a classroom leader, maximized retirement benefits and district-wide days off for their own — and students’ — wellbeing. Teachers would also like opportunities for creative work, paid, personal days off, leadership opportunities, a retention bonus and affordable housing options near where they work.
Teacher solidarity has remained strong, according to the report: 82% of teachers feel valued by other teachers at the school and 91% trust themselves and colleagues to make decisions that are in the best interest of their students.
Disclosure: the Charles Butt Foundation is a financial supporter of the San Antonio Report. For a full list of supporters, click here.