Teachers federation warns of educator burnout

The Texas American Federation of Teachers released survey results Monday that indicate pandemic pressures may drive employees away from the schools they work at permanently.

According to a Texas AFT survey from the fall, 66% of 3,800 school employees who responded indicated that they had considered leaving their jobs in the past year. Those employees included teachers, librarians, custodians and bus drivers.

To stay in public education, 45% said they want pay incentives, 35% want fewer responsibilities, 8% want workplace safety improvements and 8% want changes to benefits.

Only 12% of the employees surveyed said they felt safe returning to campus amidst the omicron surge, the survey indicated.

Texas AFT President Zeph Capo said pandemic burnout is a very real thing among educators in the state.

“We hear from them every day, calling us or their local union presidents in tears, because they just don’t know if they can keep doing this,” he said.

That stress, Capo said, has exacerbated long-standing issues facing educators.

“Public schools are not only facing an immediate public health crisis,” he said in a virtual news conference Monday. “They’re also facing a potentially devastating staffing crisis, with more and more school staff and teachers being driven out of their jobs by concerns for their safety, workloads that keep increasing, paychecks that stay stagnant, or more frequently, a combination of those things.”

Staffing shortages triggered by COVID-19 exposure have been reported at virtually all Rio Grande Valley schools since the beginning of the spring semester, prompting a practical bidding war for substitutes and frequent shuffling of employees on campus.

The event featured recorded statements from four teachers who described challenges they’re facing and how they’d like to see those challenges addressed.

Those teachers decried political gesturing and poor pandemic precautions, saying they’re overworked and underpaid.

One of those teachers was Luis Garza, a teacher at Memorial High School in McAllen, who said he felt the state isn’t supporting teachers enough.

“They’re not backing up teachers when it comes to their professionalism, they’re not treating us like professionals,” he said.

Garza also criticized more lax pandemic protocols currently in place.

“The safety protocols aren’t as strict as they were before. Some of the things that are happening now is we don’t really have a mask mandate now, which is driving numbers up,” he said.

Capo said accounts like those illustrate the findings of the survey.

“They are overextended, and they were overextended for years prior to this pandemic,” he said. “There’s not a lot left in the tank.”