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Retired educators become one answer to Texas teacher shortages

"Are you available to sub tomorrow?" Tobi Bray recalls the text messages she routinely receives from teachers she knows. She tells WFAA teachers are stretched thin.

DALLAS — Tobi Bobo Bray first started teaching in 1984 in East Texas and would continue teaching until 2009, when she retired. She would return to the classroom just six years later to substitute and never really looked back. 

As an experienced and retired teacher, Tobi Bray still felt "the call" to return for the children. 

"Kids are our future. We have to take care of kids and we have to take care of our teachers," said Bray.

She says in her nearly four decades of teaching she has never seen a teaching environment like this one -- in a pandemic coupled with a teacher shortage.

"Are you available to sub tomorrow? Are you available to sub Friday?" she recalls the text messages she routinely receives from teachers she knows. She tells WFAA that these teachers are stretched thin.

"I've never seen anything like the scenario right now," said Tim Lee who is executive director of the Texas Retired Teachers Association or TRTA, a non-profit. "I think one in five [retired teachers] are probably thinking about [coming back]," he said.

Bray is one of 95,000 members with TRTA and one of many retirees who have returned. The decision to return is not a simple one, according to Lee. 

Lee points to the legislative and administrative environment retirees are currently entering into. Retirees are navigating through district surcharges and consequences against their pensions for returning.

"A lot of our folks are telling us there are hurdles that are difficult to get over in the current emergency situation. If they're retired less than 12 months there are other cost consequences that they may have to incur," said Lee.

There is certainly no shortage for work in districts across the D-FW Metroplex. Bray only subs for Richardson ISD and can only speak for that district alone. 

Bray showed WFAA an app that tracks the teacher vacancies. Dates that are marked in green signify there is a vacancy. Most all of February is "greened out."

"There's a big need there and those are kids that need a teacher. I don't remember seeing it solid green like this," said Bray.

Bray chooses the days she works and where she works and she encourages other retirees to return. 

She also encourages retired teachers to join TRTA and increase its membership. She believes increased membership is the precursor for positive change for retirees at the legislative level.

"It is the most rewarding job there is," she said.

An opportunity to renew the oath some took long ago in the biggest time of need.