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Let's Talk teacher burnout

Cedar Attanasio/AP
Substitute teacher and New Mexico Army National Guard specialist Michael Stockwell takes a geology assignment from Lilli Terrazas, 15, at Alamogordo High School, Tuesday, Feb. 8, 2022, in Alamogordo, N.M. Dozens of National Guard Army and Air Force troops in New Mexico have been stepping in for an emergency unlike others they have responded to before: the shortage of teachers and school staff members that have tested the ability of schools nationwide to continue operating during the coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Cedar Attanasio)

Let’s Talk New Mexico 3/3 8am: Education has been hit hard the past few years by the pandemic. Public schools are encountering mass resignations and shortages, leaving fewer people to take on more responsibilities than ever.

On the next Let’s Talk New Mexico, we’re talking about teacher burnout. And we want to hear from you! Are you a teacher experiencing burnout and looking to leave your job? Are you a parent who’s worried about the future of your child’s education? Email letstalk@kunm.org or call in live during the show, (505)277-5866 – Thursday morning at 8 on 89.9 KUNM.


  • Billie Helean, President of Rio Rancho School Employees Union, first grade teacher
  • Hilario “Larry” Chavez, Superintendent of Santa Fe Public Schools 
  • Simona Muniz, Albuquerque Public School teacher 
  • Gwen Perea Warniment, deputy cabinet secretary New Mexico Public Education Department


Taylor Velazquez: And welcome to Let's Talk New Mexico. I'm your host, Taylor Velazquez. We're hitting the two year mark of COVID-19. And throughout this time, the pandemic has put a spotlight on many institutions that have not been working well for our community. Education is one of them. Education has had to pivot fast and learn how to deliver education to our kids remotely and navigate safety measures during in-person learning. It has been a time filled with uncertainty and has left many educators experiencing burnout, and even leading to leaving to professions altogether. However, this burnout while worsened by COVID-19, has existed for many years. Now, the state is dealing with massive teacher shortages and staff shortages as well that are directly impacting our schools. This morning, we'll be speaking to teachers, union leaders, state officials and superintendents, and we want to hear from you. Are you an educator who's experiencing burnout? Are you a parent that's worried about the future of your child's education? How should we be supporting our schools? Email Let's talk at kunm.org. Or call in live to 277586. And my first guest this morning is Simona Muniz, a middle school teacher with Albuquerque public schools. Good morning, Simona.

Simona Muniz: Good morning, Taylor. How are you?

Taylor Velazquez: Doing pretty good. And thank you for joining us. But first off, before we really get deep into the burnout conversation, how are you feeling today? And can you explain what your burnout feels like today and what it means to you?

Simona Muniz: How I'm feeling today? I'm feeling pretty exhausted. I stay feeling pretty exhausted during the whole school year. But I am also simultaneously excited see my kids because my kids bring me joy.

Taylor Velazquez: And Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham signed Senate Bill-1 earlier this week, it's a big deal. This essentially raises the base pay by $10,000, for each of the three tiers of teachers, also teachers as a whole received 7% raises. And the governor said, this will make you all the highest pay teachers in the region. How does this impact you? And does this give you the incentive to stay in the field?

Simona Muniz: I first want to point out that it's not a full 10,000. So that part is a little misleading. Our tiers do jump up, but it's not 10,000. But it is a really great incentive. I qualify to live in low income housing right now. And I struggle to put food on the table. And I also have two other jobs just like many teachers and EA’s I work with many of us go right to another job after school to make ends meet. So, the hopes of maybe not having to have three jobs is really exciting.

Taylor Velazquez: Right. And that's just on the local level. But do you think it will encourage New Mexico's teachers to stay here or even lure teachers from other states to help with the shortage?

Simona Muniz: Well, no, unfortunately, I don't think so. Because it seems like the raise is focused more on recruitment, getting new teachers in the door. But new teachers are kind of getting a lot more than some of us, not even us, some of my colleagues who have been teaching for many, many years, they're not getting nearly as much of a raise, which is pretty problematic with that bill, in my opinion. So, I think it's more focused on getting new teachers on board. However, we do know that within the first five years, a lot of new teachers quit. And you know, it's a very brutal job. So, you know, I do have questions about it, had they made it where it was more fair to the to the teachers who have been here longer, where they actually do get $10,000 ways than I think it would have been better.

Taylor Velazquez: And speaking of the pay raise, we had an email from Tom, and he says, as a teacher who survived the pandemic, I'm delighted that the state has finally increased pay scales, which is long overdue. Yet I and many of my colleagues are very burned out at this point of either quitting or getting a simpler low paid position or leaving the profession altogether. This is due to the incessant management of the negative behaviors of students, extremely poor attendance, and the increased pressures from the administration to catch up. ongoing staff shortages and the ever changing strategies and rules districts impose on teachers. So, my question for you Simona, teachers are leaving the profession in droves. Has your school seen these mass resignations and how does that affect you?

Simona Muniz: Yes, all of those things do apply. They are fairly accurate. Like I said, I have a great rapport with my students. So, the student behavior in my classroom is pretty awesome. For me, it's everything else he listed. And we have seen a lot of people leave this year. last year, and a quite a handful of new teachers are going to be leaving at the end of this year too.

Taylor Velazquez: And I want to take it back into your classroom, you told me that many teachers are dealing with infrastructure problems, and from broken Hvac systems to just not enough resources or school supplies, and you experienced your own issues with your cooling and heating system. And you said you had to become a troublemaker in order to for maintenance to come. What was that experience like? And is this commonplace for teachers?

Simona Muniz: I don't think it's commonplace for teachers to make such a fuss about it. I think that they put so much work on us that most of the time, we just feel down, and we don't feel like we have the energy to be a troublemaker or make any kind of fuss. A lot of us are just like hanging on by a thin thread. But it worked for me. You know, I think the heating situation is pretty sad in schools. And I thought up until recently, teachers, you know, still were dealing with 40, 50 degree temperatures in their room, which is unacceptable. Luckily, I have a community that supports me and a community that is not afraid to make a lot of noise. And they were willing to call district for me and call and call and call. And ever since then my feet has not stop working. So, I wish that, you know, more teachers had the I don't want to say the energy, or I don't know, I wish we knew how powerful we truly are.

Taylor Velazquez: And I want to talk about the real physical mental effects of burnout. We've heard some messaging around taking time for self-care to alleviate burnout, is this something that's doable?

Simona Muniz: With three jobs, it's pretty challenging. And with a lot of the depression and anxiety that teachers and students kind of suffer, it's kind of a cyclical thing in school. It, it's sometimes hard to find that wheel for self-care, but I do love self-care. It's just you know, with three jobs, it's pretty, it's pretty tough.

Taylor Velazquez: Right. And I know you have to jump pretty soon here to get to your kiddos. But some listeners may be wondering how teacher burnout is different from any other professional burnout. What are the unique pressures and challenges that teachers are facing right now?

Simona Muniz: Well, I guess one way it's similar is you have a lot of higher ups maybe telling you you're not doing a good job and that is painful when you're giving it your all. It is literally physically impossible to meet all the demands that they demand of us. So always, you know, feeling like you're not doing your job, you're not meeting your job, you're not good enough. That is intense, we deal with, I have, my classroom cap size is 40. So, I have about 35 to 36 in my classes, and I deal with them every hour. And then, you know, on top of all the paperwork that we're supposed to do in a day, on top of the new MLSs system where it's like, you know, hours of work on the computer. It's completely cumbersome and totally unrealistic. It's funny, you know when you talk to non-teachers, people just don't really get it. Only other teachers understand. It's all the outside work, the free labor that's you're expected to do. If you know, education runs on the free labor of teachers. So, it's all that outside work. You know, I've been considering going back to the coffee shop I worked out because when I leave for the day, I literally leave for the day, I don't have to go home and work for three to five hours so.

Taylor Velazquez: And as you step into your classroom here in a few minutes, you're teaching our kids now, you're doing the work to catch them up from these past couple years with COVID. But are you worried about the future of education in our state?

Simona Muniz: Yeah, I'm worried about the future of education in our country. I think it's systemically flawed. I think it really needs to be looked at, looked at and kind of, a lot of things that are in place a lot of bureaucracies that are in place I need, I would like them to be torn down. They are really not beneficial to teachers or students.

Taylor Velazquez: Right. Thank you so much, Simona for taking the time out of your busy schedule today to talk with us.

Simona Muniz: Thank you, Taylor. I appreciate you having me.

Taylor Velazquez: Awesome. And our next guest is Larry Chavez, superintendent of Santa Fe Public Schools. Welcome to the show, Superintendent Chavez.

Larry Chavez: Good morning.

Taylor Velazquez: And my first question for you is you're dealing with the teacher shortage firsthand in trying to staff your district. What are you seeing and hearing from your teachers and staff when it comes to burnout?

Larry Chavez: Well, you know, first I want to commend the teacher you just have on, because it takes a lot of courage to really come on the radio and talk about what they're going through. And we hear, we hear those same issues, day in and day out, you know, teacher burnout, the lack of respect, and a lot of times what we're seeing currently, and maybe it has something to do with COVID. And maybe it doesn't, but really the lack of respect for the education profession. And so, when you have community members, parents, students, really attacking educational staff, it takes a toll on them, and they want to leave the profession. So, you know, we're really trying to, to encourage everyone to be thoughtful understanding and flexible, because we are in unique times. And education is not what it once was. So, for us, we're trying to be very resourceful in trying to find ways of providing an opportunity for us to not only retain our current employees, but also recruit any potential employees because we've had a shortage of teachers for a number of years. And the pandemic has not helped us in finding replacements for those vacancies.

Taylor Velazquez: And looking at the teacher shortage and retention issues in the long term. Are you worried about your staffing problems in the future? And why should we focus on both recruiting and retaining? Do you think the raises two educators that made it through the legislature would make a transformational difference?

Larry Chavez: Yeah, and, you know, I want to praise our state, our governor, our PED, and I heard that one of our deputy secretaries is on this call as well, you know, that staff as well, as you know, anyone that has worked on some of these bills that have passed, so we're hoping Senate Bill0-1, which Mimi Stewart really led the charge on helps us not only retain, but also recruit more individuals to our profession. You know, I think that the one issue that you know, really hasn't been addressed is the lack of students going into our profession, you know, a lot of our current employees or the new employees we've hired, and I would say 95% or higher, happened to be from the alternative settings. And so, it could be a change in profession, it could be from a degree field, that is not in education. And so that shows us that there's a lack of individuals going into a school of education or going to pursue a degree, a college degree in education to become a teacher. So not only are we going to be able to help recruit, and hopefully retain our current staff, but I think we really need to put a lot of effort into attracting high school aged students into our career field once they graduate.

Taylor Velazquez: Speaking of alternative measures, last time, we had spoken, you had said your district is getting help from the National Guard, and it's a necessity for you guys. Have you received any National Guard members? And how have they been offsetting the teacher burnout? And just because a lot of us are curious that the National Guard troops come into the class in uniforms, or did they look like any regular sub?

Larry Chavez: Well, I think we're in a unique situation here in Santa Fe, since we're in the state capitol, those state employees have actually been the individuals and actually Dr. Perea Warniment, has been one of those that have been in our school subbing, so we have not had any national guard individuals in our classrooms are helping us out throughout the district, it's really been the state employees. So, I want to thank them, I want to thank the governor, and also the PED staff for really stepping up and helping us out in those areas that we just had a very difficult time of staffing, you know, and that includes finding subs. So, for us in Santa Fe, again, we're in a unique situation where we can partner with our state agencies, and really utilize the employees that have to commute or work here in Santa Fe.

Taylor Velazquez: And like you said, it's been a very unsettling time. So how do you think we should be offsetting the staffing shortages in the future?

Larry Chavez: Well, I think that's, I think everyone's concerned. You know, it's always talked about in real time, but my big concern has been a year from now or maybe even two. So, our goal is to really retain those individuals that we currently have on staff. Hopefully we don't lose too many to retirement or moving on to a different profession. So, kind of being flexible and being understanding of the needs of your staff. Sometimes it is money and sometimes it isn't giving extra breaks. What we did here in Santa Fe……

Taylor Velazquez: And I hate to interrupt you, Superintendent Chavez but we need to pause just for a minute and take a quick break. This is Let's Talk New Mexico on 89.9 KUNM. I'm Taylor Velasquez. We'll be back in a moment.


Taylor Velazquez: Welcome back to Let's Talk New Mexico. I'm Taylor Velazquez. We're taking your calls about teacher burnout. Are you an educator who has left the field? Give us a call at 505-277-5866? And let us know. We're going to get back to our conversation with Superintendent of Santa Fe Public Schools, Larry Chavez. And as you were saying before, Superintendent Chavez, COVID-19 has been an unsettling time for many people. However, a contentious debate since our schools have reopened is over masking. Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham lifted the mask mandate just a few weeks ago. And while some schools have completely gone away with masks, Santa Fe Public Schools has continued with its mask policy. How was this decision made? And what feedback did you receive from teachers and students?

Larry Chavez: Yeah, that's a great question. We actually surveyed our community. And we received over 6000 completed responses. And it really did show that you know, it was really split. And so, it was a no win situation, we knew we weren't going to please one side of those that were not in favor of our decision, you know, we'd really did take into consideration the trends we had seen previously. And when we're, as we're starting to unmask in our communities, we wanted to ensure that there would be no trickle effect into our schools. Our priority is for in person learning to take place for the remainder of the school year. And so, this was just taking a precautionary step to ensure that measure. So again, it was just to ensure that we can continue, we wouldn't see an uptick in cases, and we wouldn't see a trickle, just in case as we start to unmask, you know, we start to see the cases rise again. So again, for us, we're hoping to make an update to our community by the end of next week. So, we'll return from spring break, you know, we'll have a new objective as far as whether masks are going to be required or not.

Taylor Velazquez: And it's hard to anticipate the trends when it comes to COVID-19. But Santa Fe Public Schools had to close its door a week ago, or week in January because of COVID cases. Since then, you have returned to in person instruction. What does the rate of COVID in schools look like now? And does your district have enough testing kits?

Larry Chavez: We do. And that was part of the reason why we closed we had an issue with our testing site and our vendor. And so, we could not ensure that everyone was not only being tested, but the results are being received not only by the family, but by us in a timely manner. So, we did start, we did start to see a spread within our schools. And so, to prevent an outbreak, we did decide to close for a week. When we did return, we have seen a decline every single week from that point to where we're at now. Just like the state numbers, we've seen a decline in our current positive cases on campus. And we are meeting with our state vendor weekly to ensure that the testing will be available, and we wouldn't have to make those decisions in the near future.

Taylor Velazquez: It's good to hear that the cases are going down in your district. But I want to get back to teacher burnout. What resources from the state or the community could help your district?

Larry Chavez: Well, you know, I think just listening to your to your staff goes a long way. Sometimes as I was mentioning earlier, just giving them a break. Our district staff went into every single school provided either a recess break or a lunch break and gave the teachers that time off to go back into the rooms and plan or just take that time to kind of have a restful, peaceful period of their school day. We also provide what we call mental wellness Mondays, and so we've partnered with a group here in Santa Fe, to provide the opportunity for teachers to attend at no charge for mental wellbeing and kind of just a period of time where they can just relieve stress. Some of our schools also have kind of you want to call it a Zen room. So, we're trying to be creative. We're also trying to be understanding, but we want to listen to our workforce, because they're the ones that will really give us the information to make the decisions necessary to provide the resources that they need.

Taylor Velazquez: And you're talking about creative solutions to our problems, and especially with teacher shortages. What would you say to people who, maybe should get their substitute license to help our schools or maybe someone who wants to get into the education field at this point?

Larry Chavez: Yeah, I think that's a great way to couch it. Hey, reach out to your school district, we're all in need. It's not just Santa Fe Public Schools, it's districts across the state. Anything that you can provide us if you want it to be a substitute, or if you want it to join the profession, or if you want it to be an EA, a bus driver, Student Nutrition worker, everything would help your district if you're if you're listening to the show this morning, so please, even if it's an hour, go in and provide that that piece of time that you can dedicate to the schools to really offset the needs that we're all going through.

Taylor Velazquez: Right. Thank you so much, Superintendent Chavez for your time on the show this morning.

Larry Chavez: Appreciate it. Thank you, Taylor.

Taylor Velazquez: And we want to hear from you. What does burnout look like and feel like to you. As a teacher, do you feel supported by your district in the state? Give us a call at 505-277-5866 or email us at Let'sTalk@kunm.org. And now I want to bring in Gwen Perea Warniment, deputy cabinet secretary of the New Mexico Public Education Department. Good morning Gwen.

Gwen Warniment: Good morning, Kayla. Thank you for having me.

Taylor Velazquez: Of course. And as we heard from the educators in Santa Fe and San…. Albuquerque and Santa Fe this morning, teacher burnout is a serious issue. What steps is PED taking to address burnout in the state and to help your position?

Gwen Warniment: Sure, thanks, for the very important question. First thing that I'm going to do is actually follow superintendent choices. Wonderful and graceful and very hopeful, where it's actually because I want to thank the first teacher who came on. Again, that was very brave and important for us all to hear, because that may be the most important thing that we all do. Just like he said that we hear our teachers. Very definition, I think of burnout, one of the most important indicators of what burnout is, as opposed to just a chronic stress is this feeling of helplessness, and hopelessness. And that's at the heart of I think what we need to address and get at. So, I want to thank the teacher as well as Superintendent Chavez because he's doing a really wonderful job in listening to his educators in Santa Fe. And what are we doing at PED? I'll just start with the salary raises.

Taylor Velazquez: I want to cut you off real quick, Deputy Secretary, morning mentor, we have a caller, Jenny. Hi, Jenny.

Caller Jenny: Hi there.

Taylor Velazquez: And what was your comment this morning?

Caller Jenny: Well, I just wanted to say, and I want to say hi to Gwen and Larry. And I really appreciate what you guys are doing. I feel supported by both of you. I am a special ed teacher in Santa Fe. And I'm retiring this year, but I can't afford to, but I can't afford not to in terms of my health and my mental health. And I know a lot of other teachers that are doing the same thing. I feel like Gwen and Larry have acknowledged what we're going through. But there's other levels of administration that are not acknowledging how incredibly difficult this is and these are levels that are impacting us more on a day to day basis. Teachers are constantly hearing the phrase, you've got this, you've got this. And that's basically just denying what we're feeling and what we're going through. And it's making it even more difficult. I'm a special ed teacher. And I'm finding that the special Ed department is just in denial of the day to day realities that are happening in the classroom. I've got to go because I've got to go to an IEP meeting. But I just feel like the people at the top understand but the people that are impacting what we have to do day to day, in addition to teaching, are making it much more difficult because of the lack the acknowledgement, you know, these ideas for self-care, we just go home and collapse, we just collapse. And self-care is just another thing that we cannot do. So, it almost causes more stress. So, it's I just want to beg for acknowledgement at school sites and in special Ed departments. And to act on that and tweak what some of the requirements are so that teachers can literally spend more time teaching and then recovering. So, thank you so much.

Taylor Velazquez: Yes, thank you, Jenny and Secretary Warniment, what do you make of that call? And how can we really get to the bottom of the day to day? Because I know most of us aren't in the classroom most days.

Gwen Warniment: Yeah. But that was really critical first, Thank you, Jenny. It's wonderful to hear your voice. And thank you for all that you do. And in in speaking for yourself, which is huge, and for other educators, and just as just as valiant, I think it important for us. So, the first thing there is, I want to acknowledge what she said about self-care, because I think it's also an issue when we keep continuing to say, what are you doing for self-care or, and or encouraging self-care, because that can take on the tone of blaming the victim. And that's a really important thing for us to sort of acknowledge and say, while self-care is important, it's important in a space without chronic stress, stress, right? It's important in a place without burnout. And so, it's not a strategy to mitigate that. The strategies to mitigate that are to address the system. And what Jenny's talking about in terms of the system is really important in the nuance like day to day work. So, I can go back to salaries. But I think in terms of the day to day work there to what, what is most important is for us to always go into the place of what it is to be a teacher. So, I do find like best friends of teachers, my mom is a teacher right now still, she she's came out of retirement, she's still teaching, and she'll probably teach until next year. And I think the opportunity, the call to actually go in and substitute and be present in classrooms is really important to understand the level and or the nuances of how teaching is evolving and or changing, given the trauma and giving, you know, where students and families are trying to cope with the results of a pandemic. It's a very, very real thing. And something that it's hard for us, I think, to even characterize, and I think characterizing it as learning losses, it does a detriment to our, to our educators actually, as well as our students because they haven't lost what educators have committed their lifetime to and or their space of really supporting students and families. What's happened is there's, there are issues in terms of results of trauma, and you see behavior, and you see families who are directly impacted maybe fiscally or financially. And so how are we building these wraparound services, and the environment around so that the educator can feel not helpless, but like their support for the educator to actually do their job. And that is, it is, I think there's tools out there that are designed to support, but we don't know whether they really do support unless we get in there with the educators that are side by side and actually find out if they're doing what we were hoping that they're doing. So, the previous educator, talked about MLSS, which is a tool, multi layered systems of support that's designed to help educators sort of look in politically about students in a really beautiful and positive way. And yet, if it's not serving its purpose, or we're not supporting the educator to understand or use it in a way that's effective for her or him, then it's not going to do anyone any bit of good. So really getting to the heart of what it looks like. And it feels like is probably our most important thing.

Taylor Velazquez: And I want to pivot to legislation now. The governor has signed House Bill 13, that increases or decreases the stipend for resident teachers provide stipends for mentor teachers who are involved in the state's Teacher Residency Program and requires teachers who participate in the program to work in that same district for three years. And as we'll get to it in a minute, there's a lot of new money that's being promised to teachers, can you walk me through the importance of this legislation, HB 13?

Gwen Warniment: Sure, that, to me, that may be one of the most, if not the most significant pieces of legislation that we passed, aside from the support for the raises. To just to be clear, I also want to say that legislation hasn't been signed yet. But the significant piece about the pay raises is in 7%, pay raise on top of the minimums or, or essentially, what how it works is that the minimums are placed on top of a 7% salary raise for every single educator. So, for instance, and that is, I think, approach to get to both recruitment and retention while recruitment retention is much more complicated and we need to think deeply about environment, supports at the school level, the administration, the culture of the school, similar to what Jenny was talking about. Press professional developments providing ample time for teachers to do their work, which also contributes to their helplessness and fatigue. All of these things are very real, but this the salary raises in terms of 7%, I'm going to give you two sort of examples. So, I'm going to focus at that top tier, the level three teachers, because they're the ones who, who we are thinking about in terms of retention. So, if I have a teacher, who this year making $62,000, first they get a 7% Raise, which would be about $4,000. And it would jump to $66,000. But given the new legislation, Senate Bill-1 with our madam Senate Pro Temp in the Senate, Senator Stewart, and the strong support of our wonderful governor, you know, that person will jump to 70,000, that's a significant pay raise from 62 to 70,000. If you are making already 68,000, as a level three teacher, you would get the 7% pay raise, which jumped to 72, close to 78, or $73,000, you've already met the minimum threshold. So, you say about that 72.7, something 72,000. So, there's significant pay raises that are built in in terms of the 7% raise on top or coupled with the minimum salaries, to get at both retention and recruitment. That said, we want to continue that push, right, we want to continue to advocate for pay raises. It's not enough, and HB 13, what I'll tell you around that is that it has the potential to be a game changer in terms of the recruitment of educators into the field, our students who are in our classrooms with a superintendent Chavez said, because what it does is it opens up the space for residency, similar to a medical residency, like a doctorate is going to school and gets paid to do a residency in a hospital or clinic. These students in their undergraduate space, their fourth year, senior year of college, get paid $35,000, to go into a classroom for a full year with a master mentor teacher. And their program of study as a teacher is partly designed to be fully inside of a classroom. And we know that based on years of research, it's the best possible that's the gold standard that you can have in terms of teacher preparation.

Taylor Velazquez: And we're talking a lot about teacher preparation, what is one thing you would urge maybe districts or just people in general about our school system right now in such a complicated time?

Gwen Warniment: I’ll echo superintendent Chavez, is that the most, probably the most important thing that you can do is volunteer and support educators and get into classrooms. Because in order to do the work, where we're meeting individual needs of students right now, educators need support around small group instruction, they just need the moral support of getting in there and providing and bringing in, whether it's bringing it supplies, or it's going in and saying can I just take a group of students and read in the corner of the classroom while you work and do what you need to do? Right? Just that is a really powerful thing that you can do to say that you support the schools.

Taylor Velazquez: And last time we spoke, you equated burnout to pay equity. And just as we were speaking of, we got the raises for teachers in the legislature. And do you think these raises are competitive with national pay rates and also competitive with other professions? I mean, what I'm trying to get at is will these pay increases be enough to boost our stagnating supply of qualified teachers?

Gwen Warniment: Yeah, that's a great question. Taylor. I think we don't want to give up, we don't want to stop here. And that's probably the my most important message around supporting educators. And I know that our governor feels the same way. And all of us, it's the public education department. Pay Equity is a complicated thing. It's relative, right? And so, we are now competitive to our surrounding area in the southwest. And that's beautiful. But it is, I said to my son, who graduated high school last year, I really want you to be a teacher, you'd make a wonderful teacher. And he says back to me. Well, I'm thinking about going into engineering because the first year that I'm an engineer, I'll get an internship and make $90,000. That's not pay equity, right with another profession. That takes the same amount of time to get into that profession. So……

Taylor Velazquez: And let me pause you right there. Unfortunately, it's time for a quick break where you're listening to Let's Talk New Mexico on 89.9 KUNM, I'm Taylor Velasco, and we'll be back in a minute.


Taylor Velazquez: Welcome back to Let's Talk New Mexico on KUNM. There's still time to give us a call this morning. So, call us at 505-277-5866 and deputy or Secretary Warniment, I want to get to a listener question from an APS parent. Her name is Ann, and she says since January, when teachers were absent, there was often substitutes leaving students with nothing to do. One teacher seemed to have a meltdown yelling at students and swearing. And she's glad that teachers are getting raises, but we need to increase funds for schools to reduce class sizes. And she also says we also need to reduce loads like that are carried by administrators. What do you make of this?

Gwen Warniment: Yeah, I would definitely agree. A powerful thing that we could do is reduce class size for sure. So, the strategy, there has to be a long term strategy. And that that's the difficulty of this right in the long term strategy is build the ecosystem, build the pipeline. I don't like calling it just a pipeline, because I don't think it's just a manufacturing space. It's an ecosystem of adults that serve students in schools. And we need more counselors, and we need more social workers, and we need more school nurses. And so, the way to, to address and or get to smaller class sizes to have more adults that serve students period. And so, it's that investment at the Educator Preparation level and the recruitment space, and in really growing our own educators in New Mexico that will address that, that will help us get there. Because right now, if we simply dictated a sort of blind policy that said, we're going to cut all classrooms in half, we don't have the educators to serve those classrooms. And so, we put everyone at a disservice, because then everyone is sort of scrambling to try to make up for where those, where should those students be. And then it defaults back to the same educators. And then you're putting them in a weird and difficult position.

Taylor Velazquez: And I want to talk a little bit about COVID. You know, we're entering two years, and I don't think anyone could have prepared for two years of a pandemic. But I've also heard from a handful of educators that they still feel unsafe because of COVID in our schools. And even though those infection rates are improving, and but we're not quite, quite out of the pandemic yet, what is PED doing to ensure that our teachers remain safe and healthy?

Gwen Warniment: Sure. I think it's what's really important here is the ability to have good, nuanced conversations with your community around what's best for your community. And we've endeavored to support that and also provide really solid guidance around safety protocols and ask districts and school boards and school councils, governing councils and charter schools to come up with a COVID safety plan. And to be mindful of the data and or setting up to have any cases in your community. I commend again, Superintendent Chavis of Santa Fe because I think that he is listening to his educators in terms of and families around, wanting to wait to remove the masks until after spring break. And it's you know, one of the things that you can do most to help with burnout is actually listen and go to those who are most proximate to the issue, approximate and look to them to help problem solve. So that's a good case of that.

Taylor Velazquez: And I want to thank you so much for your time, Secretary Warniment this morning.

(Gwen Warniment in the Background) Thank you Taylor

Taylor Velazquez: And now and I want to introduce our final guest, her name is Billie Helean. She's the president of Rio Rancho School Employees Union and a first grade teacher. Good morning, Billy, thanks for joining us.

Billie Helean: Good morning, Taylor. Thank you for having me.

Taylor Velazquez: Compared to the beginning of the pandemic, what differences do you see in yourself and your colleagues in terms of stress and burnout?

Billie Helean: Oh, it's a big difference between the beginning and end where we are now. At the beginning of the pandemic, we were really scrambling to try to figure out how to be virtual teachers very quickly. And that was that was tough. It was a big pivot and we; I think we did it very well, especially here in Rio Rancho public schools. You know, we, we really did everything we could to make sure that we were serving students the best we could in that environment. You know, I saw teachers do remarkable things at the beginning, beginning of the pandemic, and they do every day. But especially then. Now, it's so much different because it's, there's a sense of fear almost about the virus, still. Removing masks, you know, granted, folks can still wear masks, but one way masking is still a little bit of a contentious thing for staff. And I don't know if y'all can hear that. That's my school bell. Actually, have conferences today, I apologize for that interruption. So anyway, as I was saying that there's a little bit of fear. So, on top of pivoting between virtual learning for students who are quarantined at home, and kids who are in person, and all of these things that we're trying to manage in the classroom, between that and then the fear of the potential of getting sick as well, it's just been a it's been a heavy load. And the last couple of months, it especially has been, it's been really tough because of just other things layered on top of that, like student behaviors and, and things like that. So, it's been a really big challenge for educators. As we've gone through this pandemic, it's, it's more exhausting now than it was at the beginning.

Taylor Velazquez: And you're president of the Union, but you're also in the classroom seeing the challenges when it comes to teacher retention. Why do you think so many teachers are leaving? And what will you do to advocate for teachers in order for them to feel safe and supported? And we also still have Secretary Warniment here with us? Is there something you would like to say to PED about what the state can do to help?

Billie Helean: So, I, what I'm hearing from staff is that they, they're really, I mean, it really is a burnout issue. It's not about pay necessarily, it really is about I can't, I've done everything I can, and I am completely tapped out, I am burnt out and I have nothing else to give. And they're leaving because they feel disrespected by the community especially. And, you know, we, every educator I know, worked so incredibly hard to make sure that students have everything they need. And that kind of lack of respect is, is really taking its toll because they're working so hard. And so really, my parent organizations, NEA, and AFC New Mexico both have programs going out right now, talking about respecting educators. So, it's about retention. Yes, it's about the pay equity and the things that Secretary Warniment talked about. But it's also about respect. And that comes with how we speak to each other and how we treat one another. So, I really want to advocate for me for my folks to have people really think about what you say before you say it, understand that there's a human being on the other side of those words, and that we really need to be respectful with one another. It's okay to have disagreements, it's okay to say that you don't like something that's happening, that's absolutely acceptable. But be mindful of how you're saying it. So that will be a big help, I think is being respectful with one another. You know, the nice thing is that I know that I can actually contact Secretary Warniment at any point and let her know that there's a concern. And the nice thing is I know that the folks at PED are listening, they really, really are and I do believe very holy with my whole heart that they're doing everything that they can. But as Secretary Warniment said, it's a long game. There aren't any easy quick fixes for any of this. And so, we're gonna have to keep pushing it things and keep working and revising. It's a you know; school is a living thing. It's not a status thing where kids come in and then they go home. It's a living thing and it takes a lot of work and a lot of effort and constant revision and constant reflection to make sure it's working properly. And that has to come from every level.

Taylor Velazquez: And I want to dig in more about that disrespect respect issue that we're having in our schools. We actually have a listener question email to us. Courtney Lawton says I'm writing as a teacher in APS. I have 135 students, most of whom are engaged, curious young people. What is really getting tough is a small but very loud, persistent group of parents who has scarcely object to all parts of the high school English curriculum. From Sophocles to Shakespeare to modern lit, nothing is sanitized enough for them. They are constantly demanding my lesson plans and changing the text class read. I spent hours on the phone with them typing well-reasoned emails in response to their requests, and afternoon conferences with administrators at the district. I have 20 years of teaching experiences and PhD in English. Their constant interventions in my classrooms are insulting and demoralizing. As a target and their nonsensical culture, I fear for my job, my license and my future retirement. She feels like she is a target of political retribution in the classroom. And Billy, I know you're both a union leader and in the classroom. Is this something you're even dealing with at the elementary school level?

Billie Helean: Yes, absolutely. It's something that's happening across all levels, and from what I hear across the whole state. You know, it's unfortunate because there are a lot of things that are really out of the control of an educator. So, one of the things about over control is that we have specific standards that we have to teach. And we do specific things to meet those standards. And one of the nice things about being a teacher in a state like New Mexico is that we do have the, the ability to adjust her instruction for each individual student. There's a push you on sharing so many of you heard about which, in some states are saying, well, teachers have to file their lesson plans, and it has to be set in stone. And the whole year has to look the way that parents want to look well. In reality, when you're in a classroom, and you're trying to teach a student who's struggling, you can't say set in stone, you have to adjust. Sometimes you adjust in the moment, sometimes you adjust for the next day's instruction. Sometimes you adjust for the next semester, or whatever. And that's part of what I said before, we're constantly reflecting on our teaching to see what's effective. And because of that, sometimes the things that we're going to do are, they're going to be targeted for a specific student's needs. And it's going to meet that standard so that they can learn. Unfortunately, this is one of those things where people there are going to people who are going to disagree with things. Absolutely. And that that's always been the case, I think. Again, it goes to when someone is speaking to another person, they need to be careful about what they're saying. Additionally, as a union leader, I actually would go to the district and advocate for that staff member if they came to me. And I would strongly encourage that staff member who wrote to you, if you have a union, go to your union, ask for their support, because they will support you. I, you know, there is you're doing everything that you can within the bounds of your negotiated agreement, and within the bounds of the public education expectations, there's absolutely no reason why you should fear of your license being revoked, there should be no fear of losing your job. Because you are doing everything you can. And I like I said before, I don't know a single educator who's just kicking back, and you know, collecting a paycheck and letting things run amok in their classroom. Every educator I know is putting every effort into this work. So, I bet that Dr. Warniment. would have more to say about that Secretary ornament.

Taylor Velazquez: And I'm actually going to take a quick listener call really quick, Megan. Good morning.

Caller Megan: Good morning.

Taylor Velazquez: And what was your comment this morning.

Caller Megan: So, I just wanted to comment that while we educators are extremely grateful that these raises have passed, there has been an unintended consequence that has come up specifically with my position and with others who held the same position as me, I'm a math interventionist. And this was a position that was newly created and Albuquerque public schools this year, and there were quite a number of these positions that were added this year, in order to try to help close some of the gaps that COVID created. And so, we've been working with struggling students in reading and in math, and now that these raises have come through, there is actually less money to go around. And so, a lot of us are losing our positions. And we're being told that we need to be prepared to fight amongst ourselves, you know, me against my reading counterpart to argue about why our program should be sustained at our school. And there's just fewer jobs for us to go around for us to fulfill. And so, I think that's been one really stressful thing that has been come out this week, because schools are seeing shrinking budgets, and they're having to make cuts. And we've worked all year with students who are struggling, that we're seeing enormous gaps between what they can do to access the grade level curriculum, and we're trying to close those gaps. And now our positions are going away. And we're going to have to go to other schools, we're going to have to go to other classrooms. And that's not something that we were even aware of. All year, we've been told that our positions are safe. And now all of a sudden, this week, we're being told that that's not the case, and that we need to be prepared to make a sudden job switch. And so, while we really appreciate these raises, I feel like having some transparency, and knowing that this was a consequence that could come about would have been really good to prepare us.

Taylor Velazquez: Great. Thank you for that, Megan. And I'm going to actually jump to another caller. We have waiting, Jenny.

Caller Jenny (Different Caller): Good morning.

Taylor Velazquez: Good morning. And what was your comment this morning?

Caller Jenny (Different Caller): I just wanted to say that I quit teaching this year after 15 years and a PhD in Biology and teaching in many schools, but I didn't quit because of COVID or anything I quit because I'm really tired of the passthrough culture. And the last school I taught it we knowingly graduated a senior class where 50% are reading two to four grade levels below. They were 11% proficient in math. I teach a very rudimentary biology class now at CNM. I passed five out of 22 of my students last semester, because they have no skill set. There is no bar in our schools. And I feel like administrators and politicians are lying to families that they're educating the kids. And it's really frustrating because I believe passionately in education, but I don't believe that's what we're doing. The last school I taught it, you could pass with a 27% due to grade inflation and the weird grading scheme they adopted.

Taylor Velazquez: Well, thank you for sharing that, Jenny. And I want to go back to you, Billy, you're in the classroom, like I said, and so often teachers are being asked to be more than just educators, they're being asked to be counselors, social workers, and provide their kids with supplies and even winter coats. I mean, and people say that schools are an opportunity for society to build good citizens and encouraging adding more and more curriculum. Is it fair, and how much are too much?

Billie Helean: You raise a good point, Taylor, you know, in education, we're really, really good at adding, but we're not very good at subtracting. So, it's, it's something I think we need to work on. You know, the, the idea that we need to fix things is always, let's add something to fix it. And in reality, sometimes we just need to lighten the load a little bit. We, one of the things that I really want to advocate for very strongly is the emotional and social wellbeing of our students, they're really struggling right now. And I think a lot of that is around, they've been home for a very long time. And, you know, I have I teach first grade, and I have students at the beginning of the year, I had students who had never set foot in a classroom. So, it was like teaching kindergarten, I swore I would never teach kindergarten. It was very difficult because these students come in with really severe needs about around how to be in a classroom, classroom discourse. And not only that, but there's a certain amount of trauma that has come with some students, and that is having an impact on not only those students individually, but also on full classroom cultures. Any teacher would agree with me when I say that you can add or take away one student and it changes the entire vibe in your classroom. And that is it. It creates challenges, because when you have a student who comes in with really severe social and emotional needs, it takes the teacher giving a lot of their energy to that student. We need more counselors, I did, there's just no other way to say that we need more counselors and more social workers to make sure that these students needs are getting met. In my school, we have 800 and I don't recall the exact number just over 800 students. We have one counselor for all of those different students. And I know from personal experience and talking with her that she is she talking……….

Taylor Velazquez: And Billy, I have to pause you right there. We're unfortunately that's all the time we have today. But thanks to everyone who called in and emailed your thoughts and thank you so much to all of our guests. Simona Muniz, Billie Helean, Superintendent Chavez and Gwen Perea Warniment. Let's keep the conversation going; share your ideas on Twitter using the #Let’sTalkNM, on Facebook as well, search for KUNM radio or email letstalk@kunm.org. If you missed a part of the show, stream it online or subscribe to our podcast on Spotify or Apple podcasts. Our engineer today was Marino Spencer Kaveh Mowahed handled your phones. Robert Maldonado live tweeted this morning and news director Megan Kamerick is our executive producer. I'm Taylor Velazquez, this is Let's Talk New Mexico on 89.9 KUNM.

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Taylor is a reporter with our Poverty and Public Health project. She is a lover of books and a proud dog mom. She's been published in Albuquerque The Magazine several times and enjoys writing about politics and travel.