Staci Crosswell entered the teaching profession six years ago with one goal in mind: to make a difference.
However, as time went on, the optimism and hope faded away.
Hundreds of Texas teachers, like Crosswell, have expressed their dissatisfaction with the job. In addition, there’s the fact that the average pay hasn’t changed for over 10 years now. As a result of the pandemic, students often had to move between virtual and classroom instruction. Teachers in kindergarten through third grade will be required to attend Reading Academies, a newer requirement that calls for completion of a 60- to 120-hour reading course. Learning progress that was lost during the epidemic may be recovered.
Even in the midst of the school year, Crosswell contemplated quitting her work as a teacher altogether. But she was held back by her apprehension about losing her teaching credential. The number of teachers quitting in the midst of the school year has reached an all-time high in the last six months, according to state records. A teacher’s license may be revoked in such a case.
Crosswell, a second-grade teacher in the Humble Independent School District, said she wouldn’t risk being reported and losing her certification even though she still wants to retire at the conclusion of the 2021-22 school year.
“It’s my safety,” she said. “If I lost my teaching certificate, I would be out of luck.”
In the past, school districts have reported instructors who quit before their contracts were up, but this has increased dramatically in the last year, coinciding with a statewide shortage of teachers.
According to current statistics, the state has received at least 471 instances of contract abandonment. This is a 60 percent increase above the budget for 2021.
“We’re leaving because it’s not worth it anymore,” Crosswell said.
It is possible that teachers who decide to quit in the midst of a school year may have their certification suspended or revoked by the State Board for the Certification of Teachers. Teachers’ certifications are typically suspended for a year in the majority of situations. Teachers who resign 45 days or more before the start of the school year are exempt from paying a penalty.
Teachers who are concerned about the legal ramifications of their union’s decision to terminate their contracts may turn to Paul Tapp, an attorney with the Association of Texas Professional Educators. There has been an increase in teacher certification suspensions in the last two years, Tapp added.
“I’ve been working with teachers just a little over 25 years at this point, and I have never seen a period like we have gone through, particularly this year, but last year as well,” Tapp said. “The thing we’re seeing now that we didn’t see before was the teacher saying, ‘OK, I understand I’ll be sanctioned, and I don’t care.’”
According to Tapp, the sharp rise isn’t necessarily attributable to districts filing more complaints with the state, but rather to the unusual number of teachers abandoning their jobs.
Many teachers, Tapp says, have had enough of “being kicked around in the public discourse.” He’s referring to efforts to ban anti-racism instruction, which some state lawmakers have dubbed “critical race theory,” and efforts by some districts to restrict recognition of LGBTQ identities in the school ground.
When it comes to contract-abandonment instances, the state has lately accepted new latitude. In the event of a change in employment, resignation due to safety concerns, or wage decrease, an exception may be provided.
However, the rise in allegations comes down to districts wanting a teacher in a classroom, and school administrators are doing everything they can to keep instructors from leaving before their contracts expire..
“ISDs have really found themselves between a rock and a hard place,” said Monty Exter, a lobbyist with the Association of Texas Professional Educators.
Districts should not penalize these instructors, according to Exter. His theory is that they are aiming to create an environment that will discourage other professors from leaving. However, this technique is ineffective since most instructors who quit the profession mid-year do not return.
Exter said that the spike in complaints might discourage individuals from entering the sector because they would regard it as a poor place to work.
“It’s too adversarial,” he said. “But again, I think ISDs feel like they have limited tools, and they are under a lot of pressure at the moment.”
Texas American Federation of Teachers President Zeph Capo noted that school districts who are losing more teachers this school year are finding it more difficult to replace them in the midst of this school year.
“Every single one of those individuals have made a conscious decision to say they no longer give a damn about their teacher certification because conditions have gotten that bad,” Capo said.
Experts often mention overworked and underpaid teachers as contributing factors to the state’s teacher shortage. These instructors aren’t quitting in the midst of the school year and jeopardizing their certification for a higher salary, Capo says. This has become a matter of health and safety as much as respect.
This school year in Texas experienced two COVID-19 surges, which pushed school districts to the brink. A lack of replacements meant that districts had to ask parents to take care of the youngsters instead of relying on teachers.
When it came time for Crosswell to decide whether or not to stay, she claimed it came down to putting herself first. Teachers, on the whole, are expected to put the needs of others ahead of their own.
“My mental health is greater than the need,” she said.
Even while a school district may go to the state with a complaint, only SBEC has the legal right to discipline a particular teacher. Teachers must have “good reason” to leave the classroom mid-year without penalty, which might include health issues or a spouse finding a new career in a distant location. According to Tapp, excessive workload and a lack of desire to continue are not acceptable reasons for leaving a job.
Teacher contracts are typically one year in length, according to Tapp. Even while some school districts, such as Pflugerville ISD, have taken a more severe approach to reporting absentee teachers to the state, others have gone the other way, rewarding teachers who remain by awarding them incentives in the hundreds of dollars.
“As a lawyer, I have a lot of respect for contracts,” Tapp said. “I certainly understand you can’t just walk away from it because you don’t feel like doing it anymore. But that said, there is a larger public issue here as well. … Sidelining a teacher so they are not available to teach anymore, in the middle of the teaching shortage we’re dealing with, hurts everyone.”
When a teacher’s license is suspended, it is normally for a period of one calendar year, commencing from the day the instructor resigned or was penalized. The instructor will be unable to teach in Texas public schools for at least two school years since a school year coincides with two calendar years, according to Tapp.
According to Tapp, the state should think about imposing less punishments. Remarks on one’s teaching certificate, such as an incensed scolding, would be etched into one’s memory.
“The idea that the one-year suspension is the appropriate sanction for a teacher who abandons her contract is something that was just decided; there’s nothing that is written in stone that that’s the obvious sanction,” Tapp said.
“I understand that there’s a balance that has to be considered because we do need teachers in the classroom,” he said. “But I think teachers, like any professionals, should be able to expect that the expectations put on them are going to be reasonable.”