NORTH TEXAS (CBSDFW.COM) — As the state of Texas grapples with how to attract and retain more teachers, many educators feel they're often left out of the conversation. It's teachers, though, who are on the front lines.
"I would work late hours at school. I would take work home. I would do work on the weekends," said U'Lyna Trice, who's quit several teaching jobs for the same reason some of her friends quit teaching altogether.
"They leave the profession because of frustration," she said.
Several surveys have found at least two thirds of Texas teachers have seriously considered changing careers. Trice admits she nearly did when the pandemic first hit.
"I knew people who passed and I was really panicking," she said. "It was just too much. It was just too much."
COVID-19, she says, exacerbated many of the existing problems in education.
"The pandemic was really the straw that broke the camel's back," said Zeph Capo, the president of the Texas American Federation of Teachers—a union representing school employees.
A survey of its members found, unsurprisingly, that many want higher pay.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average Texas teacher makes nearly $7,500 less than the national average, and experienced educators report they often make little more than newcomers.
Even more common than complaints about compensation were those about the culture, climate, and workload in education.
"A lot of sticking issues were all of the duties that teachers are required to do beyond teaching," Capo said. "Ridiculous 10-page lesson plans, or doing lunch duty or after-school duty or bus duty."
A study by the the non-profit Edweek found the typical teacher works 54 hours a week and spends less than half that time teaching students.
"For a lot of teachers, it's a calling," said Andrea Chevalier, a lobbyist with the Association of Texas Professional Educators. "It doesn't mean that we can take advantage of them."
The association also asked its members to weigh in.
"We asked one question. We asked, 'Why do you think teachers are leaving the profession?'" she said.
A spreadsheet of responses shows a kindergarten teacher in Carrollton-Farmers Branch ISD wrote, "our work is no longer fulfilling."
"It's an endless series of data entry and accounting and paperwork," agreed an Arlington ISD math teacher.
A teacher from Rockwall ISD echoed many saying they don't feel valued or supported.
Trice is now featured in campaign by AFT Texas, calling for greater respect for teachers.
"Respect first and foremost is hearing what we have to say and acting on it," she says in a video posted to the organization's website.
The unions are also using their research to develop recommendations—rooted in teacher input—to cut down on required paperwork, hire more support staff, increase teacher autonomy, reduce state mandated testing, and increase teacher pay significantly.
They're sharing their ideas with the Texas Legislature, which could take action when it meets early next year.
"I'm hoping those in power see the necessity of gathering an educator's input when it comes to these issues," Trice said.
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