Photos: What Texas’ educator shortage looks like for one pre-K teacher
Lauren Witte/The Texas Tribune<br/><br/>
Michelle Cardenas quiets down the class during a phonics lesson on April 27, 2022. Her class of 30 students at Hillcrest Elementary School was split into two rooms after surpassing the state limit. “The more kids you have in there, the harder it is to get stuff accomplished,” Cardenas said. “It was literally like babysitting.”<br/>
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Michelle Cardenas has taught at Del Valle ISD for nearly two decades, but the 2021-22 school year pushed her to her limit — her district had dozens of teacher vacancies at the end of May.
That left Cardenas, a bilingual pre-K teacher at Hillcrest Elementary School in South Austin, overseeing two classes at once with 30 students total. She moved back and forth between the rooms, relied on aides to supervise her 4- and 5-year-old students and even used video calls to simultaneously teach both classes. If Cardenas has to do it again, she said, “I’d probably walk out the door.”
Educators across Texas have struggled through a teacher shortage, and many say the problem is exacerbated by low pay, political debates over curriculum and declining respect for the profession — not to mention a pandemic that has altered the way children behave and learn. This school year, the district said Cardenas’ school is 95% staffed thanks to job fairs and a $4,000 pay raise for new teachers.
But Cardenas still has doubts and fears. Her year started with a glimmer of hope when the school hired a second bilingual pre-K teacher, relieving some of her workload. But that teacher was quickly transferred due to staff shortages at another school. As more bilingual students were referred to Cardenas' class, it grew from five to 18 children, approaching the state limit of 22 students per class for pre-K through 4th grade.
“I hope I’m not in the same boat as I was last year,” Cardenas said.
First: Cardenas prepares classroom materials before the students come into the classroom on April 21, 2022. Cardenas makes two copies of all materials, one for her class and one for a teaching assistant’s class. At one point, Cardenas had 20 students in her class and the assistant had 10. Middle: Cardenas cleans up literacy centers and starts putting out math centers while the students watch a music video. Last: Cardenas helps students count syllables. Credit: Lauren Witte/The Texas Tribune
First: Cardenas smiles during a check-in on teaching assistant Alejo’s classroom. “It’s been like this ongoing process of different teachers in the other pre-K classrooms,” Cardenas said. “I spend all this time training and prepping them and then they go somewhere else.” Last: Students look at worms during a library lesson. Cardenas always stays for the lessons to help keep the students focused and translate into Spanish when needed. Credit: Lauren Witte/The Texas Tribune
First: Cardenas speaks to the Region 10 members of TSTA during dinner at the convention. Last: Cardenas talks with her TSTA colleagues by the hotel pool. “Having that group, like the support of the teachers, is very important — like to have a group of friends that you can talk to about what’s going on,” Cardenas said. Credit: Lauren Witte/The Texas Tribune
First: Cardenas looks through pages of the scrapbook she is putting together. “Your students at school end up becoming like your own kids,” Cardenas said. Last: Cardenas talks with her husband, Rick, in their home. Credit: Lauren Witte/The Texas Tribune
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