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Photos: What Texas’ educator shortage looks like for one pre-K teacher

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Posted at 1:03 PM, Sep 16, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-16 14:03:10-04

"Photos: What Texas’ educator shortage looks like for one pre-K teacher" was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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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.

Michelle Cardenas prepares classroom materials for herself and Alejo before the students come into the classroom on Apr. 21, 2022. Cardenas makes two copies of all materials, one for her class and one for Alejo's class. Cardenas had 20 students in her class and Alejo had 10.

Michelle Cardenas prepares classroom materials for herself and Alejo before the students come into the classroom on Apr. 21, 2022. Cardenas makes two copies of all materials, one for her class and one for Alejo's class. Cardenas had 20 students in her class and Alejo had 10. Credit: Lauren Witte for The Texas Tribune

Michelle Cardenas cleans up literacy centers and starts putting out math centers while the students watch a music video on Apr. 21, 2022. Pre-COVID, Cardenas would have five centers of four students. Now, for safety reasons, she has 10 centers of two students at a time in her room.

Michelle Cardenas cleans up literacy centers and starts putting out math centers while the students watch a music video on Apr. 21, 2022. Pre-COVID, Cardenas would have five centers of four students. Now, for safety reasons, she has 10 centers of two students at a time in her room. Credit: Lauren Witte/The Texas Tribune

Cardenas helps students count syllables during class at Hillcrest Elementary School on April 21, 2022.

tktk Credit: Lauren Witte/The Texas Tribune

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

Michelle Cardenas, Hillcrest Elementary School bilingual pre-k teacher in Del Valle ISD, teaches a literacy lesson about the letter Y (NEED TO GET CLARIFICATION ON THIS ACTIVITY) to two classrooms on Apr. 21, 2022. She projects a notebook of vocabulary words and shares her laptop camera to Alejo's classroom using Google Meets. This screen is also shown on a TV? in Cardenas' classroom.

Cardenas teaches a vocabulary lesson on a video call connected to her second classroom of students. “I didn’t want them to feel like they were pushed out of my classroom — that they were still just an extension of my classroom,” Cardenas said. Credit: Lauren Witte/The Texas Tribune

Esperanza Alejo, Cardenas' TA, has her students present their drawings to Cardenas' class using a projector on Apr. 21, 2022. After Cardenas' class split into two different rooms, one managed by Cardenas and her substitute, Nancy Lopez, and the other by her TA, Esperanza Alejo, Cardenas still planned all the curriculum. The students do the same activities and have the same lessons in both classrooms. Some of the lessons, like the drawing vocabulary activity (NEED CLARIFICATION ON THIS ACTIVITY), are done at the same time with a Google Meets video call bridging the classrooms.

Teaching assistant Esperanza Alejo has students present their drawings to Cardenas’ class using a projector. After Cardenas’ class split into two different rooms — one managed by Cardenas and the other by Alejo — Cardenas was still responsible for planning curriculum for all of the students. Credit: Lauren Witte/The Texas Tribune

Cardenas helps a student during class at Hillcrest Elementary School on April 21, 2022.

Cardenas helps a student during class. Credit: Lauren Witte/The Texas Tribune

Michelle Cardenas smiles while checking in on Alejo's classroom on Apr. 21, 2022. “[For a while] It's been like this ongoing process of different teachers in the other pre-K classrooms,
NEED TO VERIFY: Cardenas said each time they hire a new teacher, it costs the district $30,000, just with all the training and prep" src="https://thumbnails.texastribune.org/2BPSTmKt975I3nIPxmTXH42b9Nk=/375x251/smart/filters:quality(75)/https://static.texastribune.org/media/files/1d859a3d59c08702e1d93ad05b54eef3/Cardenas%20Teacher%20Shortage%20LW%20TTx%2002.jpg"/>

Michelle Cardenas smiles while checking in on Alejo's classroom on Apr. 21, 2022. Credit: Lauren Witte for The Texas Tribune

Students look at worms during a library lesson, which they have once per week, on Apr. 21, 2022. Cardenas always stays for the lessons to help keep them focused and translate when needed. The librarian tries to coordinate lessons that fit the themes Cardenas is teaching. This lesson was about how worms are present in soil when it is rich. They wanted students to learn that

Students look at worms during a library lesson, which they have once per week, on Apr. 21, 2022. Credit: Lauren Witte for 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

Cardenas watches over her students and receives hugs as students wait in the lunch line on April 21, 2022.

Cardenas watches over her students and receives hugs as students wait in the lunch line. Credit: Lauren Witte/The Texas Tribune

Cardenas prepares a biscuit for one of her meals on Apr. 27, 2022. She has a few small meals throughout the day on this diet plan, which, in addition to helping her lose weight, is more convenient during the busy school day.

Cardenas prepares a biscuit for one of her meals. She has a few small meals throughout the busy school day. Credit: Lauren Witte/The Texas Tribune

Esperanza Alejo helps watch students during naptime on Apr. 27, 2022. Watching 30 kids alone is a safety hazard, so Alejo and Cardenas supervise naptime together in a third, empty classroom.

Esperanza Alejo helps monitor students during nap time. Watching 30 kids alone is a safety hazard, so Alejo and Cardenas supervise nap time together in a third classroom that’s unused. Credit: Lauren Witte/The Texas Tribune

Cardenas speaks at the annual Texas State Teachers Association convention in Houston on April 29, 2022. An active member of the association, Cardenas advocates for teachers and students. “I hate when people leave the teaching profession,” Cardenas said. “You want people to stick around, you don’t want people to get burnt out, you don’t want people to hate their job.”

Cardenas speaks at the annual Texas State Teachers Association convention in Houston on April 29, 2022. An active member of the association, Cardenas advocates for teachers and students. “I hate when people leave the teaching profession,” Cardenas said. “You want people to stick around, you don’t want people to get burnt out, you don’t want people to hate their job.” Credit: Lauren Witte/The Texas Tribune

Michelle Cardenas speaks to the Region 10 members  during dinner at the TSTA House of Delegations convention in Houston on April 29, 2022.

TK Credit: Lauren Witte/The Texas Tribune

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.

TKTK 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

Michelle Cardenas works on scrapbooks for her students at home while spending time with her daughters on May 24, 2022. Cardenas was inspired to create scrapbooks for her students because she has a scrapbook from when she was in daycare, but her husband does not have many pictures of himself as a kid. She wants her students to be able to look back at their year in pre-k, which they may not remember. <br/><br/>Possible quotes:<br/><br/>“They’ve made comments to me before like, ‘I wish you didn't have to work today,’

“You can go into another job and you get to walk out that door of that job and not bring any - any work home with you. And you're getting paid more," Cardenas said.

“Your students at school end up becoming like your own kids," Cardenas said." src="https://thumbnails.texastribune.org/C_7bu9zFEd1xD2szOVho7SgZlGc=/375x251/smart/filters:quality(75)/https://static.texastribune.org/media/files/a6566cea2297a2f7692a49146c06c052/Cardenas%20Teacher%20Shortage%20LW%20TTx%2027.jpg"/>

In the last few weeks of the 2021-22 school year, Cardenas works on scrapbooks for her students while spending time with her daughters. “They’ve made comments to me before like, ‘I wish you didn’t have to work today,’” she said. “It’s very hard because it’s like sometimes we, in our personal lives, give up certain things because we have the personal responsibility for our students.” Credit: Lauren Witte/The Texas Tribune

Cardenas looks through pages of the scrapbook she is putting together on May 24, 2022. “Your students at school end up becoming like your own kids,

Cardenas looks through pages of the scrapbook she is putting together on May 24, 2022. Credit: Lauren Witte for The Texas Tribune

Cardenas talks with her husband, Rick, in their home on May 24, 2022.

Last: Cardenas talks with her husband, Rick, in their home. 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

Michelle Cardenas helps students with centers on Apr. 27, 2022. “Right now schools, anywhere, everywhere, it's just this uncertainty of what's going to happen,

“It’s just this uncertainty of what’s going to happen,” Cardenas said about the teacher shortage. “It’s scary as a parent because who’s going to teach my babies? Like, who’s going to be left out there as a teacher to teach my own personal kids?” Credit: Lauren Witte/The Texas Tribune


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This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2022/09/14/teacher-shortage-photos/.

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