AUSTIN, Texas — Laura Lee Vines has had a lot more time to play with her 1-year-old son, Jameson, lately. Playtime moments, like the ones she enjoys now, weren't as frequent when she was a teacher.
Vines decided to quit teaching theater at Del Valle Middle School in March.
"I miss my students and my fellow teachers, and it really broke my heart to have to leave them,” said Vines.
She said she has a lot less stress in her life now, adding that the teaching environment became more difficult because of the pandemic and that kids became more unruly, making it harder to run the classroom.
"Especially with coming back, I taught middle school, and after the pandemic, we were kind of dealing with basically third and fourth graders coming in," she said.
Vines said the workload was also growing. More teachers began leaving, and she had to start using her time to plan classes to cover other teachers.
"I was coming home every day and I was so beat and stressed out and exhausted. It was like I wasn't being a very good wife, I wasn't being a very good mother," she said.
As of this week, Del Valle ISD has 70 teacher vacancies.
Looking at six districts in Central Texas, five of them have seen an increase of teachers retiring or resigning since the start of the pandemic. The five districts are San Marcos ISD, Leander ISD, Austin ISD, Round Rock ISD and Del Valle ISD.
Hays CISD is among the school districts experiencing a shortage of teachers. As of this week, it has 64 teacher vacancies.
"When we have those vacancies, we also call on our existing teachers to step in and they've had to, in some cases, split the classroom amongst a grade level,” said Fernando Medina, chief human resources officer at HCISD.
He said the district is trying to find new ways to recruit teachers and keep them around. They’re even getting teachers from across the globe to come in and help.
"We'll have five teachers from Spain. That's new to our district," Medina said.
And the HCISD school board recently approved 7% pay raises for teachers and paying for some new teacher certifications.
"The district is stepping in and saying, 'Listen, we will support you in this journey to become a teacher,'" Medina said.
That's similar to something Austin ISD is trying.
"We are proposing a $1,000 increase for their base pay and a 2% increase on their mid-range. So that means, within their salary range, all teachers will be getting a 2% increase for the following year,” said former AISD Communications Specialist Eduardo Villa.
Earlier this month, AISD had 570 teacher vacancies, which is almost about 10% of their total teachers. At the end of the year, vacancies are usually higher because of standard turnover.
One way to keep teachers longer is through salary increases, according to advocacy groups like the Texas State Teachers Association (TSTA).
The group has lobbied the legislature on behalf of teachers for more than 100 years and said it's also pushing districts at the local level.
"We have locals in our school districts who go to school board meetings and ask school board members, who are elected by the community, to ensure that they are paying our educators what they should be,” Texas State Teachers Association President Ovidia Molina said.
According to the National Education Association, Texas teachers earn about $7,500 less on average than teachers nationally. Texas teachers earn on average $58,887, while the national average is $66,397.
"I struggled with the amount I was being paid,” said Vines.
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In a recent study by Scholaroo, an education and scholarship research group, Texas ranked 43 out of 50 for teachers. For salary and compensation, Texas ranks 30, it came in at 35 for student performance, 36 for career accessibility, 38 for work benefits and 41 for the work environment.
Though the Texas Legislature isn't in session right now, the TSTA has its agenda ready.
"We're always advocating for better pay, better working conditions, salaries for our retired members, we're asking for them to have cost of living increases,” said Molina.
Cost-of-living increases and a growing workload are two reasons why Vines is now working partially at home doing customer support for a tech company.
"I think unless some of these issues get addressed soon, we are going to be in a massive crisis as far as teachers not returning," she said.
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