Summer school is vital to recovering from pandemic learning losses, but Texan teachers say they burned out


When planning this year’s summer vacation, the school districts face a dilemma.

In many cases, students need additional help. Teachers, on the other hand, need rest.

“It’s been a very hectic year,” said Trachelle Dearmore, a Fort Worth preschool teacher. “We’ve had so many changes – face-to-face teaching, virtual teaching, some people do a hybrid where they do both. Was tired.”

While thousands of teachers will continue to work through portions of their summer vacation, thousands more – including Dearmore – will not. Instead, they will take their – sometimes shortened – vacation breaks to “recharge their batteries”.

Stress was the number one cause of job dissatisfaction prior to COVID-19, and according to a recent survey by RAND Corporation, teaching requirements during the pandemic have increased these stressors for many educators.

Trachelle Dearmore at the East Regional Library in Fort Worth, Texas on Tuesday, June 8, 2021. (Lawrence Jenkins / Special Contributor)(Lawrence Jenkins / special article)

For the past 16 months, the school has been disrupted by the disjointed ad hoc nature of virtual and face-to-face teaching. Concerned about increasing learning losses, many districts are calling for a drastically expanded summer school to tackle the “COVID slide”.

“Teachers had the toughest year they’ve ever had,” said Lea Ann Schkade, the outgoing intervention manager at Garland ISD.

A different year

Fort Worth ISD – the region’s second largest district with 77,000 students – is opening summer classes to all grade levels and launching a revamped program designed to help students catch up after the disruptions caused by the coronavirus.

“This was a different year so we’re taking a different approach. We need everyone on deck this summer, ”Superintendent Kent P. Scribner said in an email.

Rather than just helping students who may be lagging behind, the district wants to rename the summer school to help all students “speed up” so they are better prepared for the next semester, said David Saenz, chief innovation officer at FWISD.

As of Thursday, the district had 7,688 students and 688 teacher training candidates for its summer programs, Saenz said. It is said to be the district’s largest personal summer school to date – almost twice the size of the last program before the pandemic.

But the expansion comes in the middle of an already shortened summer break.

As with Dallas ISD, Fort Worth has postponed the start of the 2020-21 school year as long as possible, postponing the last day of class. The last day of school for Fort Worth and Dallas is June 18th. The majority of campuses in these districts will resume classes on August 16.

Fort Worth’s month-long summer program – which runs June 23 through July 22 – leaves attending teachers a little more than a few weeks off.

To encourage teachers to participate in the district’s summer program, FWISD is offering them – and other staff – a grant of $ 1,000 in addition to their usual allowance.

“They sacrifice their time in summer and after a long, long year they have less time to themselves,” Saenz says on Friday half a day without classes.

Dallas ISD – the largest district in the region with 145,000 students – has decided not to significantly expand its offerings this summer.

Instead, the district surveyed elementary and middle school teachers, families and community members about their interest in a transition calendar, adding five weeks of classes spread over the upcoming school year. According to the polls, 41 schools – about a fifth of the district’s elementary and middle schools – will participate and start school on August 9th.

Last summer, Garland ISD adopted an intersession calendar for the entire district.

From June 14th, eight additional half-day classes will be held at all 72 locations during a “summer break”. The focus of the extra class time is on math and literacy, as well as final exams and college readiness for older students, said Schkade, who is retiring this summer after 35 years in Garland.

About 12,000 of Garland’s 54,000 students are expected, as are nearly 1,200 teachers. Schkade said campus administrators are responsible for recruiting staff for the extra days. Once the staffing levels were established, special invitations were sent to some students and families, although any student can attend, she said.

As an added incentive, Garland also increased the salary rate for the summer school from $ 30 to $ 40 an hour.

“[Staffing] It’s hard to balance, but it just worked, ”said Schkade. “I’m so proud of the turnout because the people are tiiiiiiirrrrreeeeed.”

What attracted the teachers, she added, was the priority placed on having fun and creativity in the lesson plans during the Intersession days.

“The engagement part of it gets our teachers and students excited to learn, otherwise they just won’t show up.”

Kelli Mabra, who teaches math at Hudson Middle School in Garland, said she fell in love with the intersession calendar while working on those extra days in October and March. With a class size limited to 15 students, she could personalize the lessons and offer students “something that is very meaningful to them,” she said.

In addition to teaching geometry, fractions, and decimals, Mabra is planning a scavenger hunt for her group of arriving sixth graders, teaching them vocabulary that is hidden in school. The hunt will give students a better understanding of their new campus while introducing algebraic concepts.

“It’ll be practical and so fun, I can’t wait,” said Mabra.

“I need this rest”

Regardless of the allowance or the additional freedom, some teachers simply needed a break.

Steven Poole, executive director of the United Educators Association, said the thought of extending the school year with summer school classes was “a lot” for many teachers. His group therefore ensures that teachers know that they are free to opt out.

“We’re sending a message to our members that it’s perfectly fine for them to take time for themselves this summer to recharge their batteries because they’ll have to do their best again next school year,” said Poole.

While she understands the counties want to make up for the learning losses caused by the pandemic, Dearmore said teachers, parents and children are currently too burned out not to take a break.

“At this point there is no amount of money” that would motivate her to take a month of her summer to work, said Dearmore, who teaches at FWISD’s Lowery Road Elementary School.

“I need this rest. The summer program would have increased my income considerably as I am about to retire, but the rest is worth it to me. “

The DMN Education Lab deepens reporting and discussion on pressing educational issues that are critical to the future of North Texas.

The DMN Education Lab is a community-funded journalism initiative with support from The Beck Group, Bobby and Lottye Lyle, Communities Foundation of Texas, The Dallas Foundation, Dallas Regional Chamber, Deedie Rose, The Meadows Foundation, Solutions Journalism Network, Southern Methodist University and Todd A. Williams Family Foundation. The Dallas Morning News retains full editorial control over the Education Lab’s journalism.


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