Texas teachers need higher salaries, more support to fix teacher shortages according to state task force

Isabella Zeff, General News Reporter

Camille Reyes, a youth and communities freshman, said the challenges facing teachers today — among them low pay and overworking —  would have kept them from the profession if they hadn’t fallen in love with teaching in high school.

“I know that I love, love, love, love, love teaching and it’s literally all I want to do,” Reyes said.

That passion is also what special education teacher Jennifer Kuehne said keeps her going through her seventeenth year of education in the face of a statewide teacher shortage. Kuehne, who teaches at Sommer Elementary in Round Rock, worked on the Teacher Vacancy Task Force, which released a report in February with recommendations for how the Texas legislature can keep more people in the field and draw in future teachers like Reyes.

“We really feel that what we do is important,” Kuehne said. “I always say, doctors take care of physical health (and) we’re taking care of the mental growth of our students. We’re educating them and I think it’s very important, so that acknowledgment would be nice.”

The task force, created by Gov. Greg Abbott in March 2022 to address teacher retention in Texas, consisted of 24 teachers and 24 administrators from across the state. Their recommendations fell under three broad categories: increasing compensation, respecting teachers’ time and improving training and support for both current and incoming teachers.

Kuehne said the biggest issue facing teachers is a lack of time. She said she works directly with students for the majority of school hours, so she must do any paperwork or meetings outside of the official workday.

“My day is over, and then the second half of my day starts,” Kuehne said. “I don’t know any teacher that’s not working nights and weekends and that’s difficult. The burnout is real.”

Faye Urich, another member of the task force, said she does not feel that her compensation is equivalent to the work she does, and low pay was often the number one issue brought up in the task force’s research and surveys.

“(People say) it doesn’t matter what you get paid because you’re there for the kids,” said Urich, a pre-k and early childhood special education teacher in Haskell, Texas. “Yes, we are there for the kids, but we would also like to feed our own kids too.”

Kuehne said the bottom line of the report is an acknowledgment of the work teachers do and recognition that they need more support.

A key Texas House panel advanced a state budget last week that would raise retired teachers’ pay, and lawmakers in the Texas Senate are discussing a bill that would give all teachers a $2000 raise.

“Change doesn’t always happen instantly,” Kuehne said. “It can take a while but I think it would go a lot further in acknowledgment, and also attracting people to the profession when they see that real change is happening.”

Reyes said they feel the task force’s recommendations would make a positive difference for teachers, but thinks continual improvements beyond just these proposals will help bring new teachers into the field.

“This is a baby step in the direction that we need to be moving,” Reyes said. “Yes, teachers do deserve all of those things, 100%, but they do deserve more than that (too).”