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Photos: What Texas’ educator shortage looks like for one pre-K teacher

Last school year, Michelle Cardenas was tasked with teaching two pre-K classes at the same time. She’s dreading what is to come this year.

Michelle Cardenas tells the class to quiet down during a literacy lesson on Apr. 27, 2022. Once they quieted down, they could hear the other classroom chant, too. Hillcrest Elementary School split Cardenas' class into two rooms. The class size limit in Texas is 22 students for pre-k through fourth grade, according to Texas Education Code, and Cardenas’ class had reached 30 students. “The more kids you have in there, the harder it is to get stuff accomplished," Cardenas said. “It was literally like babysitting.”
Michelle Cardenas prepares classroom materials for herself and Alejo before the students come into the classroom on Apr. 21, 2022. Cardenas makes two copies of all materials, one for her class and one for Alejo's class. Cardenas had 20 students in her class and Alejo had 10.
Michelle Cardenas cleans up literacy centers and starts putting out math centers while the students watch a music video on Apr. 21, 2022. Pre-COVID, Cardenas would have five centers of four students. Now, for safety reasons, she has 10 centers of two students at a time in her room.
Cardenas helps students count syllables during class at Hillcrest Elementary School on April 21, 2022.
Michelle Cardenas, Hillcrest Elementary School bilingual pre-k teacher in Del Valle ISD, teaches a literacy lesson about the letter Y (NEED TO GET CLARIFICATION ON THIS ACTIVITY) to two classrooms on Apr. 21, 2022. She projects a notebook of vocabulary words and shares her laptop camera to Alejo's classroom using Google Meets. This screen is also shown on a TV? in Cardenas' classroom.
Esperanza Alejo, Cardenas' TA, has her students present their drawings to Cardenas' class using a projector on Apr. 21, 2022. After Cardenas' class split into two different rooms, one managed by Cardenas and her substitute, Nancy Lopez, and the other by her TA, Esperanza Alejo, Cardenas still planned all the curriculum. The students do the same activities and have the same lessons in both classrooms. Some of the lessons, like the drawing vocabulary activity (NEED CLARIFICATION ON THIS ACTIVITY), are done at the same time with a Google Meets video call bridging the classrooms. "I didn't want them to feel like they were pushed out of my classroom - that they were still just an extension of my classroom," Cardenas said.
Cardenas helps a student during class at Hillcrest Elementary School on April 21, 2022.
Michelle Cardenas smiles while checking in on Alejo's classroom on Apr. 21, 2022. “[For a while] It's been like this ongoing process of different teachers in the other pre-K classrooms," Cardenas said. "So I haven't had a true team in many years. And it's like, every time it's a new teacher, it's like, I spend all this time training and prepping them and then they go somewhere else. And then I get a new teacher in. And it's like all this time training and prepping them and then they go somewhere else. And so it's like constant - like we're constantly doing more and more work.”

NEED TO VERIFY: Cardenas said each time they hire a new teacher, it costs the district $30,000, just with all the training and prep
Students look at worms during a library lesson, which they have once per week, on Apr. 21, 2022. Cardenas always stays for the lessons to help keep them focused and translate when needed. The librarian tries to coordinate lessons that fit the themes Cardenas is teaching. This lesson was about how worms are present in soil when it is rich. They wanted students to learn that "...worms are a good thing," Cardenas said. "They're not a bad thing.”
Cardenas watches over her students and receives hugs as students wait in the lunch line on April 21, 2022.
Cardenas prepares a biscuit for one of her meals on Apr. 27, 2022. She has a few small meals throughout the day on this diet plan, which, in addition to helping her lose weight, is more convenient during the busy school day.
Teaching assistant Esperanza Alejo helps watch students during naptime on Apr. 27, 2022.
Cardenas speaks at the annual Texas State Teachers Association convention in Houston on April 29, 2022. An active member of the association, Cardenas advocates for teachers and students. “I hate when people leave the teaching profession,” Cardenas said. “You want people to stick around, you don’t want people to get burnt out, you don’t want people to hate their job.”
Michelle Cardenas speaks to the Region 10 members  during dinner at the TSTA House of Delegations convention in Houston on April 29, 2022.
Cardenas talks with her TSTA colleagues by the hotel pool. “Having that group, like the support of the teachers, is very important — like to have a group of friends that you can talk to about what’s going on,” Cardenas said.
Michelle Cardenas works on scrapbooks for her students at home while spending time with her daughters on May 24, 2022. Cardenas was inspired to create scrapbooks for her students because she has a scrapbook from when she was in daycare, but her husband does not have many pictures of himself as a kid. She wants her students to be able to look back at their year in pre-k, which they may not remember. 

Possible quotes:
“They’ve made comments to me before like, ‘I wish you didn't have to work today,’ "

“You can go into another job and you get to walk out that door of that job and not bring any - any work home with you. And you're getting paid more," Cardenas said.

“Your students at school end up becoming like your own kids," Cardenas said.
Cardenas looks through pages of the scrapbook she is putting together on May 24, 2022. “Your students at school end up becoming like your own kids," Cardenas said. She missed her eldest daughter's eighth grade graduation so her students could say goodbye and have a last day of school party. "It's very hard because it's like sometimes we, in our own personal lives, give up certain things because we have the personal responsibility for our students," Cardenas said.
Cardenas talks with her husband, Rick, in their home on May 24, 2022.
Michelle Cardenas helps students with centers on Apr. 27, 2022. “Right now schools, anywhere, everywhere, it's just this uncertainty of what's going to happen," Cardenas said. "It's scary as a parent, because, who's going to teach my babies? Like, who's going to be left out there as a teacher to teach my own personal kids?"

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