Texas teachers: we don’t need a task force. We need a new Governor.

Talk to any Texas teacher, and they’ll confess: the last two years in the classroom have been the most brutal of our careers.

Not only have we faced great challenges in our classrooms, but we’re suffering from wild whiplash. Two years ago this month, educators were hailed as heroes for our ability to “adapt and overcome” like the Marines.

Down my street, our local elementary school led a caravan of cars covered in balloons with teachers hanging out of windows and poking out of sun roofs holding posters with messages of hope and persistence. “We miss you!” they screamed to our children through masks and tears. As a mother and a teacher, I struggled to keep my own classroom going while making sure my two daughters kept up with online and in-person classes.

Commercials celebrated us, families thanked us, and we landed the plane despite the uncertainty of the end of that school year.

Today, Governor Abbott accuses us of distributing pornography. He introduced an adversarial “Parents Bill of Rights” — which already exists in both law and practice — to pit parents against teachers.

Why, our Texas leaders have gone as far as calling us communists and Marxist (to the shock of many of my conservative friends in education).

So when the news came out that Governor Abbott wants to initiate a task force to investigate the teacher shortage in Texas, it’s no wonder so many of us laughed out loud.

For one, Abbott’s task forces are simply political stunts. After countless mass shootings in Texas, his round tables on gun violence amounted to nothing. He’s signed bills like permitless carry despite the aggressive outcry of police officers and Texas License to Carry instructors (one of whom pleaded with our Texas senators that people sometimes show up to his classes with the wrong ammunition for the firearms they’ve purchased). So we educators know this task force is another empty gesture.

Radicals like Abbott have proposed and passed outlandish policies: banning books about the Holocaust, outlawing critical race theories seen only in graduate classes and law schools, and— most shockingly—threatening to jail educators who refuse to turn in the families of our trans students to CPS.

In Florida, GOP leaders even suggest installing cameras in classrooms.

“That’s how China does it!” my colleague exclaimed. She taught English in China for a few years and couldn’t believe these types of bills existed within our own borders.

And while the wild whiplash of the last two years delivers a pain no chiropractor can fix, the wounds inflicted are even more dangerous and insidious than our Governor may realize.

Insult to Injury

Governor Abbott seems confused. One week, he’s threatening jail time and the next he wonders why teachers are leaving in droves. He need only reflect on his agenda to understand why educators have no patience for political games right now.

Perhaps he hopes to replicate the election results in Virginia by eliciting resentment toward educators. What Abbott forgets is that unlike Virginia, Texas teachers reopened schools in-person at the very beginning of the year last year.

Before there was a vaccine to protect vulnerable adults, we were there.

Before there were vaccines to protect our students, we were there.

Despite a lack of nurses and substitute teachers and mental health professionals, we were there.

Texans were able to return to work and regain some normalcy during these turbulent times because teachers were there while the Governor’s mansion was still closed for tours and visitors.

Anchors instead of life jackets

Instead of banning books and threatening to defund schools, our Governor could have thrown us a life jacket.

Any of your teacher friends or acquaintances can share the long list of resources that could’ve made a difference in our classrooms during this crisis:

We needed more nurses to handle the influx of testing, contact tracing, and care that our students and staff required.

We needed more mental health professionals. This year, I’ve had multiple students drop out because of suicidal thoughts, self-harm, and other heartbreaking diagnoses that we could’ve helped treat or manage at school. We have more anxious (and even violent) students than ever before.

We needed more personnel: more teachers, more administrators, more support staff. But there was no plan to entice retired educators to come back and help or propositions to encourage college students to get experience teaching by stepping up as teachers’ assistants or substitutes. From Cost of Living Adjustments for retired teachers to student loan forgiveness for those studying to become teachers, our leaders had a buffet of options to help attract true educators to come to our aid instead of sending military personnel, police officers, or anyone with a pulse to babysit the countless classrooms who had a teacher out with COVID.

But instead of a life jacket, we got thrown an anchor.

HB 4545 defied the promises made to both parents and teachers last year. Ours was one of many families who chose to excuse our kids from standardized testing which we knew would waste valuable hours our children needed in the classroom to address gaps in learning. Texas parents knew what STAAR tests would show last year: the pandemic had a negative effect on learning. Surprise, surprise.

But the Governor and Texas legislature thought they knew better. So much for parent choice, right? They ignored parental decisions and concerns and insisted students make up these burdensome tests anyway.

My freshmen students will be STAAR tested over three different times this school year.

First, any of my 14–15 year old students whose parents excused them from tests the previous year had to miss class for a make-up STAAR test. Then, the Texas Education Agency volunteered the time of our schools just last month to allow a company to field test their assessments on our kids. Another day lost, and we won’t even get results from these STAAR field tests to help in our instruction. Finally, there are at least three more days to lose where my 9th graders will be assessed on English, Algebra I, and Biology.

In a year where we should be maximizing time spent in class filling gaps, we’re wasting hours and hours for students to fill in bubbles on expensive, inaccurate, and time-consuming assessments.

Texas terrorists

Our state is hyper aware of the consequences of rabid rhetoric. In August of 2019, a Texas terrorist took to heart President Trump’s propaganda repeating the decades-old “Great Replacement” theory and drove 650 miles to kill innocent people in El Paso.

American classrooms are already targets of terrorism, but Governor Abbott and Lt. Governor Patrick put a bullseye on Texas teachers when they perpetuate propaganda.

Framing educators as pornographers and indoctrinators is not a joke.

Is it that hard to imagine how their vicious lies could inspire vicious violence in a state that makes it increasingly easier for its citizens to get a gun without so much as a criminal background check? Is it that hard to imagine the victims of such an attack in the name of stopping Marxists and pedophiles?

Maybe we need a task force on the effects of the GOP’s demoralizing and dangerous attacks on educators and how that impacts teacher recruitment and retention?

A teacher’s true task: vote!

The truth is that we Texas teachers can heal this whiplash. We can take the reigns from a mercurial Governor who can’t decide if he wants to attack us or play pretend and waste our time with task forces.

The last time an election cycle gave us the opportunity to elect true supporters of education, we got so close. This time, we can’t afford to fail.

Teachers need to show a united front to save our profession. We don’t need a task force; we need a show of force at the ballot booth in November. We need to research the candidates who profess to promote ideas and legislation to fix the current problems in Texas schools.

Former congressman Beto O’Rourke proposes shifting funding from based on attendance — a policy that devastated districts during the pandemic — to funding based on enrollment. This could increase budgets enough to mean more teachers or increase planning time with more conference periods or give meaningful raises.

Candidate for Lt. Governor, Mike Collier, is prepared to fight the defunding of our local schools through vouchers which steal tax dollars from public schools (where they are accountable by the public) to private schools (which removes all public accountability and supervision).

Research candidates, rally your peers to elect leaders who value educators, and volunteer to support these campaigns to ensure that we build a future for Texas where our schools are a priority and our teachers are respected once again.

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Gaby Diaz

Gaby Diaz

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