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The A&M-Corpus Christi Institute aims to keep teachers in the field

At a Friday workshop for aspiring teachers at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, attendees said they became teachers as an act of service, to make a difference in the lives of students.

Common reasons for not pursuing a career in teaching include a lack of support, stress and the difficulty of the job and salary, says longtime teacher Linda Villarreal. Villarreal is interim dean of the College of Education and Human Performance at Texas A&M University-Kingsville.

“I think it’s great that Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi is reaching out to new teachers because they are the most vulnerable right now,” Villarreal said. “They are the ones who need the most support because they are just starting out, and we need to keep them. We need to use every tool we have to keep them in our profession.”

A growing percentage of new teachers in Texas are uncertified, with the percentage of uncertified new hires projected to reach an all-time high of 34% statewide by 2024. In recent years, Texas education preparation programs have reported declining admissions and completions, according to state data.

When it comes to retaining newly hired teachers in public education, teachers trained in traditional bachelor’s degree programs have the highest retention rates within their first five years on the job. Teachers from alternative certification paths have a slightly lower retention rate, and non-certified teachers have the lowest retention rate.

Yet only 64% of teachers trained in traditional bachelor’s programs are retained in the public education workforce after five years.

Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi has hosted its Beginning Teacher Institute for recent graduates for the past three years, hoping to help increase retention rates for new college-trained teachers.

“You are truly the future of education in South Texas,” said Don Melrose, interim dean of the College of Education and Human Development at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi.

Teachers who have graduated from the university since 2019 attended and participated in sessions on classroom management and intervention, classroom libraries, trauma-informed teaching, promoting student growth, and supporting bilingual students.

Villarreal spoke at the beginning of the institute and shared her own experiences from the beginning of her career. Shortly after graduating from Texas A&M University-Kingsville, then known as Texas A&I University, Villarreal landed a job as a gifted and talented high school teacher in Kingsville.

In college, she had done well in her classes and was confident in her abilities as a teacher.

“I just knew in my mind that I was going to be Disney’s Teacher of the Year,” Villarreal said. “I was going to do everything. It would be fantastic.”

But then she stepped into the classroom.

In her freshman year, Villarreal struggled with classroom management.

“It seemed like I just couldn’t get it done,” Villarreal said. “Every day it got worse, all year long.”

At the end of the year, Villarreal was devastated to learn that the school did not want her back the following year.

“I knew it was a bad year, but I didn’t think it was that bad,” Villarreal said.

But Villarreal got another chance and taught in another classroom in the district. Knowing she couldn’t live through another year like this, Villarreal decided to stop by and visit the strongest teacher on campus.

The teacher told her that others knew she was struggling, but Villarreal had never asked for help. The teacher also suggested Villarreal receive additional training in classroom management.

With the additional training, Villarreal built a career in education, despite her challenging first year.

“You will make a difference,” Villarreal told the novice teachers. “Not just in someone’s life, but we are indeed changing the world.”

Villarreal said new teachers need strong support and mentorship. School districts can help new teachers by offering an induction program.

“I didn’t have the support and I didn’t ask for it,” Villarreal said. ‘But I didn’t have to ask. People should have been able to see that I was drowning.’

Villarreal suggests that new teachers identify and learn from the strongest teachers on their campuses and find inspiration in the way they teach.

“Right now you are the most vulnerable,” Villarreal told the crowd. “The first through third years are the years where we need you to be the strongest. We need to give you the most support.”

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