Education / Schools

Hollister School District seeing a wave of resignations, retirements

Citing job stress, some teachers are opting to become substitutes, as the role entails fewer responsibilities.

A substantial number of Hollister School District teachers are retiring or resigning in the wake of overwhelming stress from increased day-to-day responsibilities and problems associated with distance learning.

“We were faced with demand after demand after demand,” said retired teacher Theresa Stevens. “I had to learn everything on my own, with no support. They were throwing out all these websites to us and telling us, ‘try this, try this.’ And who has time for that? I’m trying to prepare lessons here. And we were expected to be psychologists, coaches, support systems, parents—you name it, we were expected to do it.” 

Hollister Elementary School Teachers’ Association (HESTA) president Nicole Felkins polled teachers in her organization about what they were unhappy about and got much the same response.

Nicole Felkins. Photo provided.
Hollister Elementary School Teachers’ Association (HESTA) president Nicole Felkins. Photo provided by Nicole Felkins.

“Asking them the question really lit a fire,” she said. “The No. 1 thing was that every year there is something new added to our plate. But teachers are already wearing so many hats, and all the extra jobs take so much time, that it just leads to burnout.”

Stevens, who taught for 27 years, said the pressures got even worse with the advent of distance learning.

“That was my downfall,” she said, “and it set me on the tailspin to get out. I had five periods a day, 25 to 30 kids per class, and out of all those kids, I knew about 12 of them. They never turned their cameras on, they never did their work. I had a multitude of zeros in my grade book, and we were expected to pass the kids on. It didn’t make any sense.”

Felkins experienced the same lack of effort and engagement from her students.

“It sometimes seems like you are talking to a wall,” Felkins said, “I had some admit they had played video games during the entire class. Some of them were on their phones or had to babysit for siblings.” 

Stevens said the feeling that her efforts to teach were becoming increasingly futile led to dissatisfaction and, ultimately, to her resignation. 

“It got very difficult to do a good job,” Stevens said, “And I needed more accountability from parents and from kids. The first time we went through remote learning in 2020, the kids were not held accountable. So here comes 2021, and they still think they don’t have to do the work. And the parents expected you to be everything for their kids—their teacher, their coach, their counselor, their guide. We just had to do it all.”

According to the Employment Actions monthly report submitted to the Hollister School District board, 85 teachers were hired, and 42 teachers have resigned or retired, since September 2021. 

In March, when the Board of Trustees eliminated 56 staff positions in response to a $6 million budget deficit, there were 16 teachers who either retired or resigned. Not including March in that time frame, the district averaged almost four resignations or retirements per month.

Paradoxically, some resigning or retiring teachers immediately seek work as substitute teachers and go right back into the classrooms. Felkins said that some of the advantages of substituting include picking and choosing your own schedule, being able to turn down difficult classrooms, and not having to attend staff meetings. 

“Substitutes in the Hollister School District make $213 a day,” she said. “If they can work five days a week, they can make over $4,000 a month, which is more money than new teachers in the district make. And you don’t have to do any of the extra work teachers are expected to do.”

Felkins is hoping that changes can be made to provide additional support to stop the exodus of qualified teachers from the system.

“People talk about how teachers are underpaid, which is true,” Felkins said. “But even if I made $5,000 more a year, it would not change what we have to go through just to do our jobs. More breaks throughout the day and a district-wide wellness program for teachers would help. More support from administrators is needed—it is a really difficult job—and teachers need more recognition for the work they do. We all want to do our best because we know the success of the kids is what ultimately matters.”

BenitoLink contacted Hollister School District Superintendent Erika Sanchez for comment, but as of publication time received no response.

 

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Robert Eliason

I got my start as a photographer when my dad stuck a camera in my hand on the evening of my First Grade Open House. He taught me to observe, empathize, then finally compose the shot.  The editors at BenitoLink first approached me as a photographer. They were the ones to encourage me to write stories about things that interest me, turning me into a reporter as well.  BenitoLink is a great creative family that cares deeply about the San Benito community and I have been pleased to be a part of it.