Wanted: Texas elementary school teachers

Hemphill Elementary School third grade teacher Natalie Martinez-Esparza reading to her students. (KXAN Photo)
Hemphill Elementary School third grade teacher Natalie Martinez-Esparza reading to her students. (KXAN Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The summer hiring season for Central Texas teachers is in full swing, and those certified to teach elementary students may have an easier time finding work.

“The job market is great right now in education,” said Nicole Holtin, who recently graduated from University of Texas at Austin with a degree to teach in an elementary school.

She plans to teach in Costa Rica for a few years to develop her Spanish so she can focus on bilingual education, and then come back to teach in a Texas classroom.

“I love doing second grade,” said Holtin. “I have a huge interest in phonics and teaching kids with dyslexia.”

Her skill-set is much-needed in Texas right now.

According to data from the Texas Workforce Commission, elementary teachers are projected to grow by 24.6 percent from 2014 to 2024 across the state. In the capital area, the project growth is even higher at 38.5 percent.

Texas elementary school teachers projected 2014-2024 growth (Texas Workforce Commission)
Texas elementary school teachers projected 2014-2024 growth (Texas Workforce Commission)

“The need for elementary teachers is being driven by the fact that we have a lot more students that need to be taught,” said Dr. Ruth Kane, chair of the Educator Preparatory Department at Huston-Tillotson University.

Even though the campus is small, the increased interest in the profession is still quite noticeable. Dr. Kane says Huston-Tillotson had a total of six student teachers across all grade levels last school year. This year they will have 13 student teachers just in the fall.

Texas Teachers, a large online teacher certification program, tells KXAN in 2014 they certified 1,403 elementary school teachers. In 2016, that number went up to more than 2,145.

“Teaching is like a religious vocation,” said Dr. Kane. “You really have to want to do it, you really have to want to work with the students.”

It’s no mystery the pay is low, and the job is taxing.

“Plus, you’re not just a teacher — you’re a psychologist, a social worker, housekeeping staff — you know, kids get sick they throw up on your shoes, and you just have to keep going on and do what you do,” said Dr. Kane.

But there is a big reward. “It’s that love of learning, that love of seeing the light bulbs go off.” There are various routes to getting certified to teach in Texas. Those who already have a bachelor’s degree can complete an alternative certification program in one year.

How the numbers break down

The total number of elementary teachers certified in all subjects in Texas has gone up in recent years, according to information provided by the Texas Education Agency.

In 2011, there were almost 21,000 certified elementary school teachers. The number dropped to fewer than 20,000 after districts across the state were forced to layoff teachers because of cuts in the state legislature.

After that, the number of certified elementary teachers continued to rise with more than 27,000 in 2015.

In 2016, it dropped back off with just over 23,000 certified teachers in the state.

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