Over the past two months Texas AFT leaders and staff have met with members from across the state during biweekly meetings of the Working Conditions Task Force to hear first-hand accounts about their experiences as educators. The feedback from the Working Conditions Task Force will direct Texas AFT’s policy work in the upcoming legislative session.
In each of the task force meetings, participants explored one of several key issue areas such as class size, educator censorship, and overly burdensome paperwork requirements.
While state law mandates that school districts maintain a 22:1 student to teacher ratio in pre-kindergarten to fourth grade classrooms and a 20:1 student to teacher ratio across the district, state law also allows school districts to seek waivers to bypass this law. Over the past two years alone, TEA has approved 100% of the requested waivers for oversized classrooms.
Because TEA has allowed districts to easily exploit this class size limit loophole, many teachers across the state are stuck with substantially more students than the statutory limit. AFT members on the task force reported that large class sizes are a major reason why teachers are leaving the classroom at an unprecedented rate, further compounding the class-size problem.. Members shared that this issue has a disproportionate effect on the morale of new teachers, who are thrown into overcrowded classrooms, which often lead to student discipline issues, before they can even get their footing as teachers.
On the issue of educator censorship, a member of the task force from Cy-Fair ISD shared his perspective on the district’s newly implemented policy on classroom libraries. Each book in every English teacher’s classroom library must be labeled by the teacher in terms of content and maturity level. In response to this burdensome and restrictive policy, many educators are simply taking all their books off their shelves out of fear of further scrutiny from the district. Suppressive mandates from school districts both add to teachers’ workloads and hinder their ability to most effectively educate students. Teachers feel disrespected when their professional judgment and expertise is doubted, which our members cite as yet another factor driving educators out of the classroom.
Though state law prohibits redundant paperwork and requires paperwork to be brief under the Paperwork Reduction Act, this law has never been properly enforced by TEA and lacks specificity. Members of the Working Conditions Task Force from across the state reported that administrators have required them to submit overly-detailed and very burdensome lesson plans every single week. They stated that, because much of their allotted planning time was spent in district-mandated meetings, much of their lesson planning had to be done at home, during their personal time.
While we continue working to reform the Paperwork Reduction Act and give it teeth through our legislative advocacy, Texas AFT staff encouraged educators to respond to overly burdensome and unnecessary paperwork requirements with a “paperwork justification form” asking administrators:
- Is the paperwork optional or required?
- Is it required by the district, and if so, which department?
- Is it required by the state?
- If it is not required by either, then why are we doing it?
The Texas AFT Public Affairs team is working with members of the Texas Legislature to pass bills addressing these issues in the 88th Legislative Session, and the feedback from the Working Conditions Task Force was instrumental in crafting our Respect Agenda. If the Texas Legislature is serious about addressing the teacher shortage and the issues pushing educators out of the classroom, it must first listen to the real experts–teachers on the front lines who know exactly why their colleagues are leaving.