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'As teachers, we're really hopeful': Austin teachers share thoughts, feelings on returning to class this fall

The ongoing teacher shortage and the recent tragedy in Uvalde are two major points of concern for teachers.

AUSTIN, Texas — Teachers and students have gone through a lot in the past couple of years with the pandemic and, most recently, the tragedy in Uvalde that now has everyone thinking about safety in schools.

Kari Johnston, Tonia Mathews and Amy Toulouse are all Austin ISD educators gearing up for a new school year.

"Even with increased anxiety in the coming year, we as educators are still approaching it with hope," Johnston said.

Johnston has been teaching for six years. She was recently recognized as AISD and Region 13 Teacher of the Year.

After the shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde where 19 children and two teachers were killed, Johnston is finding herself thinking more about the safety of her students.

"This is the first year I've really thought about where my students would hide in a certain situation," Johnston said. "Teachers are nervous, but we are excited to welcome kids back in a way that doesn't make them nervous. We want school to feel safe. We want them to feel excited to be in our rooms. But it is a different start to the year."

RELATED: Central Texas parents raising concerns about school portables and safety

Tonia Mathews has been teaching band for 26 years. She said it's hard to put into words how she feels after the tragedy in Uvalde.

"With the proximity of the Robb Elementary tragedy, that definitely hits a little closer to home. You no longer feel like it can't be you. It could happen anywhere at any time," Mathews said. "I really want to make sure the kids feel comfortable at school and feel like it's a safe place."

This school year will also be Amy Toulouse's 26th year of teaching. She teaches French.

"This is definitely not like a normal school year. Of course, I am feeling some trepidation," Toulouse said. "I'm going to do the very best. I have a plan for my classroom. I'm going to do the very best I can for my students. I will protect them as much as I can."

In districts across the state, there has been an increase in teacher vacancies. These educators said those vacancies are becoming difficult on those who choose to stay.

"When the ones who've been there longer than I have start to leave, that feels a little bit like the wheels are coming off but there's so much talent out there," Toulouse said.

"My hope is that I do not burn out. My hope is that I can come every year, really with joy and excitement like I had the year before, but I am nervous. I'm nervous that the pressure will become too much," Johnston said.

Even with the challenges teachers have faced in the past couple of years, Johnston, Mathews and Toulouse said they aren't going anywhere any time soon.

"As teachers, we're really hopeful. We're hopeful for change. I'm hopeful that, after the past few years we've had, that people are listening and that we can create change," Johnston said.

"We got through all that and they've been really resilient and they continue to make music and want to come to class," Mathews said.

"In teaching, we have a saying, 'Just close the door and teach.' And so, I do that," Toulouse said. "It's fun to go in a classroom and see how kids just find their way. That's what they do. They cope and they find their way."

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