TYLER, Texas — As the COVID-19 pandemic drags on, Texas is experiencing staffing shortages in the education systems as teachers have become overwhelmed, overworked and underpaid. But there's a new area of concern: the demand for more bilingual teachers in Texas schools with the influx of Spanish-speaking students.
Erika Guerra never imagined being a dual-language teacher, let alone during a pandemic.
Guerra has been a fifth grade dual-language teacher at Clarence W. Bailey Elementary School in Longview for more than a decade.
She says "all the teachers are very stressed" because of COVID-19.
Some are leaving the industry altogether, according to Everardo Delmas, fourth grade dual-language teacher at Clarence W. Bailey Elementary School, even the ones who have been teaching for years because they "don't want to take the risk," due to health concerns.
One of the biggest disadvantages: quarantine. When students test positive or are exposed to the virus, Guerra says they can be out of school for days, even weeks at a time.
"I have had students this year that they were out for a month, a month in the beginning of the year, and a month after the Christmas break," Guerra said. "It's not a gap anymore, it's an ocean."
Guerra says in order to effectively learn and retain another language, constant exposure everyday is needed and virtual learning presents challenges for Latinx students.
Andy Canales, Latinos for Education executive director, Texas, says one of the biggest challenges with digital literacy for Latinx students is the "lack of access to technology at home."
Delmas says technology will "never replace the labor and the work" being done in the classroom.
Texas Teachers of Tomorrow says the demand for bilingual teachers in the state has increased by 50%, but has only been 20%t met -- making it harder for the bilingual educators that remain.
Guerra says its overwhelming. Right now she teaches 30 students in a self-contained setting, meaning she teaches all subjects and keeps the students all day.
Latinos for Education is dedicated to cultivating Latino leaders of tomorrow, but Canales says it starts in the classroom and representation matters.
"Research has shown that having teachers of color makes a big difference for students of color because of the background they share, connecting with students that are looking for role models," Canales said.
Guerra and Delmas agree. As overwhelming as teaching in a pandemic can be, Guerra says "being around the kids is fulfilling in really touches your life."
Delmas says his reason to teach is because his first grade teacher greatly impacted his life.