It was one thing to expect Texas teachers to create additional place in their hectic home routines for online classroom instruction for months during a continuing teacher shortage, and another to watch the newest in vaccination and mask regulations while waiting and adapting for a return to the classroom.
However, while instructors work to regain all of their children’ learning lost during the epidemic, the Texas Legislature has mandated that those who teach grades K-3 undergo a 60- to 120-hour reading course known as Reading Academies if they wish to maintain their employment in 2023.
And they have to do it on their own time and for free.
The course requirement is the final straw for many instructors, like Christina Guerra, a 38-year-old special education teacher in the Rio Grande Valley, and it is forcing her and others out the door.
“I don’t want to do it,” she said. “I refuse to, and if they fire me, they fire me.”
In 2019, the Legislature made it a compulsory for instructors to finish this reading skills course in order to enhance student reading scores. Every teacher in the early elementary classes — kindergarten through third — had until the end of the 2022-23 school year to finish it, as did principals.
But then the epidemic struck, and many teachers are debating whether or not to finish it.
Tina Haass, a math and science teacher in the Fort Bend Independent School District, typically works through the course on weekends. She doesn’t have the mental stamina to go on a computer and proceed through the course’s apparently endless portions after a full day at school.
“Luckily, I don’t have any kids,” she said. “I can’t imagine some of these teachers having families that they have to come home to — they have to cook, they have to take care of their children.”
This course requires at least 60 hours to complete, although professors have taken up to 120 hours in rare situations. The majority of instructors are not paid for their time. If funds are available, some districts are paying stipends.
It’s unclear how many instructors still need to take the course. As of March 9, approximately 90,000 instructors have either begun or finished the course, according to a Texas Education Agency report. There is no indication of how many K-3 instructors are still required to finish it in the same agency update. Questions concerning the needed course and the coming 2023 deadline were not answered by the TEA.
As Texas struggles to achieve reading competence exams, teachers believe that increasing reading results is critical. In the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress, sometimes known as “The Nation’s Report Card,” just about a quarter of fourth graders and a quarter of eighth graders performed at or above proficient level.
However, the pandemic’s constraints have caused many instructors to reevaluate whether or not to stay in the classroom. According to a University of Houston analysis, the number of licensed instructors in Texas decreased by around 20% from 2010 to 2019.
Gov. Greg Abbott organized a task team to address teacher shortages in the wake of recent allegations of increased teacher departures.
Teachers and public education supporters, on the other hand, think that the state should be held responsible for teacher departures, particularly when introducing mandates that increase teacher burden.
“I just feel like a lemon just squeezing, squeezing, squeezing,” said Guerra, a special education teacher in La Joya Independent School District. “But there’s no more, there’s nothing that you squeeze out anymore. There’s no more juice.”
Guerra intends to retire from teaching at the conclusion of the school year.
There have been a few odd exceptions to the deadline, as harsh as it may appear.
The state has enabled schools to exclude art, health education, music, physical education, speech communication, and theatrical arts or theater instructors who hold an all-level certification, which permits them to teach kindergarten through 12th grade.
However, not all teachers are certified at all levels. Meredith Connely, a Leander Independent School District elementary visual arts teacher, paid about $200 and took an exam to get her all-level certification.
“I’m seeing other people on my campus take it and it seems like it was $200 well spent, but I shouldn’t have had to pay,” Connely said. “My time has worth.”
Only 11 out of 975 K-3 teachers and administrators polled by the Association of Texas Professional Educators in December stated they have all-level certification in one of the topics that may be excluded.
The Texas Education Agency’s notification to educators earlier this month seemed to imply that authorities will look into methods to reduce the Reading Academies course to 60 hours. Teachers may be able to test out of the course if their districts allow it.
The TEA also advised K-6 teachers that they do not need to attend the Reading Academies course if they passed the The Science of Teaching Reading Exam.
The Reading Academies course is well-intentioned, according to Andrea Chevalier, a lobbyist with the Association of Texas Professional Educators. They discovered that roughly 65 percent of the instructors polled thought the information was useful.
Teachers’ concerns about the Reading Academies course should be addressed when Abbott’s teacher shortage task group meets, according to Chevalier.
Nearly half of the instructors polled by Chevalier’s organization said the course took them more than 120 hours to finish. Only 18% claimed it took them between 60 and 80 hours, and 95% said they worked late or on weekends to complete it.
According to Haass, the Fort Bend ISD teacher, lawmakers who imposed this course didn’t take into account the time and work instructors would have to put into it. Haass, a math and science teacher, said there’s no reason for her to take the test because she isn’t the one teaching youngsters to read.
“This is the hardest — I’m sorry — fucking job I’ve ever had,” she said.
Most instructors in the Austin Independent School District are working on the course on their own time, whether it’s after school, on weekends, or over the winter break, according to Jessica Jolliffe, assistant director of humanities. On Jan. 4, the district did allow instructors time to focus only on the course.
While instructors would prefer not to do this on their own time, Jolliffe feels the course content is valuable and can benefit students’ reading abilities.
Guerra, who lives in the Rio Grande Valley, said she took the choice to leave teaching after 14 years because of all the disruptions and critiques instructors had faced during the pandemic. That’s exactly what she claims. Abbott’s task committee must address this issue.
Guerra explains how she believes teachers have been treated unfairly in recent years. They were first accused of refusing to give lessons in person. Then there were charges that instructors were teaching critical race theory once they were back in the classroom.
“At this point, I feel like there’s no coming back for teachers after all of that,” Guerra said. “And the Reading Academy is just a kick in the ass after being treated poorly for the past few years.”
The article is paraphrased from the following: Texas teachers say they’re pushed to the brink by law requiring them to spend dozens of hours unpaid in training, Chloe Alexander, 1:45 PM CDT April 1, 2022, https://www.khou.com/article/news/education/texas-teachers-unpaid-training/285-10dd7fda-bb1e-460b-8eee-514c8ace3c8c