As the teacher shortage continues across the country and North Texas, local school districts are tapping into universities in their own backyards to find a fresh crop of new teachers.
Soon-to-be graduate Jenica Kevil is ready to get started.
“I feel like I’ve been waiting my whole life for this,” she said. “I’ve always known I want to be a teacher.”
Kevil is just one semester away from graduating UT Arlington with her degree in elementary education and she's already substitute teaching in Arlington ISD. It’s something she said she didn't think of doing before graduation but realized is so vital now because districts have been in dire need of substitutes to fill the gaps.
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“When I was substituting, I was already seeing schools where students have already lost their teachers because they’re retiring at Christmas. I think that’s so challenging because these kids have already been through so much through the pandemic and the learning gaps,” Kevil said.
Assistant professor Catherine Robert of the College of Education at UT Arlington said she’s observing an unprecedented number of job openings mid-semester for K-12 positions in school districts.
“It’s a very difficult market especially in positions that are already hard to fill, such as special education and ESL,” she said.
Staffing shortages have always been an issue over the years but it has been made worse by the pandemic's stress on teachers, burnout and the “Great Resignation.”
“Teachers need to feel each day that they’ve done a good job and made a difference in the lives of their students,” said Robert. “The roar of social discord, the tidal wave of accountability pressure – not to mention the pressure that teachers place on themselves to help their students – it drowned out the positive feeling for the amazing work that they’re doing.”
Robert said estimates are showing a large number of Texas teachers could potentially retire in 2022.
"We’re going to see delayed effects roll out overtime as teachers begin to deal with the stress and strain of the last almost two years. They've performed heroic acts and haven’t had the time to emotionally process it,” she said. “With almost 20% of our teachers at or near retirement age, they may very well choose to step out if they have that opportunity."
A Silver Lining
As schools grapple with labor shortages, many are looking at a silver lining.
A new batch of college graduates crossed the stage this weekend and even more will do so this May, including Kevil.
Districts like Fort Worth, Mansfield and Arlington are already partnering with local universities to streamline those graduates into jobs. UTA has partnerships with over 20 different area school districts.
Many of those districts are offering sign-on bonuses and incentives, sometimes worth thousands of dollars. Those incentives are also being offered to other crucial positions experiencing shortages, such as bus drivers.
Kevil said that makes the decision to be a teacher during a difficult time even sweeter.
“I think the bonuses and incentives are really nice and for a lot of students. We need the money. It’ll be nice to start ahead,” she said.
The competition and haste to find quality teachers have been consistent all year.
In fact, Fort Worth ISD hosted a recent hiring fair and ended up hiring 56 teachers on the spot that day with bonuses and stipends.
Despite seeing what teachers have been through during the pandemic, Kevil said she's ready for the challenge once she officially joins the workforce.
“I definitely feel a lot of energy coming from my classmates and myself. We’re just so ready,” she said. “I think we’ve been learning all the strategies to help and fun activities – just working really hard to get to where we want to be. So I think we’re just ready to get in the classroom and get to it."