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Teacher resignations drive teacher shortage in San Antonio

Students at Jackson Middle School sit in desks facing away learning math as a teacher gives a lesson on a projector. A math specialist observes to the right.
Camille Phillips
Texas Public Radio
Jackson Middle School Principal Erin Deason was able to find a teacher for this math class just before school started this year. A math specialist also observes and assists at times. Her position was paid for through federal COVID relief funding, but overall the campus now has one fewer teacher position than it did before the pandemic.

This is the first in a three-part series on San Antonio’s teacher shortage. Read part two and part three.

Erin Deason had to fill more teacher vacancies this year than she’s had to fill in any other year in her nearly two decades as principal of Jackson Middle School on San Antonio’s near North East side.

Seventeen of her teachers quit or retired at the end of last school year, but she considers herself lucky because she was able to fill 15 of those vacancies by the time school started in August.

“There are some schools that still have a lot of teacher vacancies. I've been lucky with it just being the two,” said Deason.

Jackson started the school year short two special education teachers and five instructional assistants. A couple of weeks in, they also lost their librarian.

A woman with glasses around her neck and walkie talkie at her waist stands outside a closed library.
Camille Phillips
Texas Public Radio
Jackson Middle School Principal Erin Deason stands outside the school's closed library Aug. 24, 2022. They lost their librarian a few weeks into the school year and had to close the room until someone could be found to run it.

On a tour of the school, Deason pointed out the library’s locked doors.

“We're hoping to get that position filled pretty quickly so we can get kids in there,” Deason said. “Typically, it's a pretty active place.”

Deason said the biggest impact of her vacancies — besides the locked-up library — are a few larger classes and an additional responsibility added to some teachers’ schedules. Because they don’t have enough instructional assistants, teachers are providing a second pair of hands in those classes instead.

“Since COVID came we just all take on extra stuff – it's just part of the job, I think,” Deason said. “And so, I always want to make sure that my staff that's here and working every day is not having a lot more put onto them.”

One of the reasons San Antonio is struggling to find enough teachers this school year is that many districts saw a spike in resignations at the end of last school year. Districts struggled to fill all of their vacancies last fall, but this year they have even more vacancies.

Jackson is in the North East Independent School District, which had twice the normal number of teacher resignations at the end of the 2021-2022 school year.

“In 2018 it was like 334,” said Chyla Whitton, North East ISD’s director of human resources. “In 2021 It was 361. So, not a huge difference — kind of on trend with what we've seen. This year, we went up to over 700 resignations.”

North East isn’t the only district that had such unusually high turnover. According to a TPR analysis of data from a dozen San Antonio school districts, 56% more teachers quit this summer than they did the year before. That left San Antonio schools with more than a thousand more vacancies to fill this summer.

Why? It’s no secret that teacher morale is low.

Billy Cano quit teaching this year nine weeks into the school year. He was a 12-year veteran at Krueger Middle School, also at North East ISD.

“The mistake I made was that I knew. I knew I was done last year, and I should have never signed the contract for this year,” said Cano. “Your teachers are not OK. They need help. They need support, be it financial, emotional — your teachers are not OK.”

Cano is an instructional coach and a department chair for English and Language Arts. In a normal year, he said he would at most teach two classes so that he has time to support other teachers. But this year his department had three vacancies and he was teaching five classes.

Billy Cano sits at the table in his kitchen where he used to do hours of administrative work for his job as an instructional coach at a North East ISD middle school.
Camille Phillips
Texas Public Radio
Billy Cano sits at the table in his kitchen where he used to do hours of administrative work for his job as an instructional coach at a North East ISD middle school.

“I was able to do it when it was two classes,” said Cano. “But these additional classes that were there, it exhausted me.”

Cano said he spent hours every night working on the administrative duties he didn’t have time to accomplish during the day, but the final straw for him was when his father had a health scare and ended up in the hospital.

Because his department is already short three teachers and it’s so hard to find substitutes right now, Cano didn’t feel like he could take time off to visit his dad.

“When you make teachers do so much, you're now pitting the guilt of them abandoning their fellow teachers and the children they teach against the guilt of not spending time with their families,” Cano said. “At some point, the families are going to win. And that's what happened with me.”

Two surveys of Texas teachers released earlier this year warned that a huge swath of teachers was thinking about quitting. The turnover data in San Antonio shows they followed through.

Now districts have to figure out how they can convince more of them to stay in the classroom.

Texas Public Radio is supported by contributors to the Education News Desk, including H-E-B Helping Here, Betty Stieren Kelso Foundation and Holly and Alston Beinhorn.

Camille Phillips can be reached at camille@tpr.org or on Instagram at camille.m.phillips. TPR was founded by and is supported by our community. If you value our commitment to the highest standards of responsible journalism and are able to do so, please consider making your gift of support today.