Outside of T.A. Sims Elementary School on Aug. 14, Principal Andrea Harper greeted every student who walked in with a smile and “good morning.” Some ran to her for a hug, some shyly stayed with their parents and some nervously took their first steps into school.

Inside, teachers waited for their students in their classrooms while “Shake it Off” by Taylor Swift played over the intercom. Parents walked their preschoolers to their first classrooms where they had a breakfast of cereal, juice, an apple and cheese.

Students across Fort Worth ISD started the 2023-24 school year on Aug. 14. Schools are opening their doors with some teaching vacancies — though less than last school year — and trying to still provide a positive learning environment for children.

Teacher vacancies

For Superintendent Angélica Ramsey, there are two best days of the year: The first day of school and graduation. Aug. 14 is the first time she’s experiencing the first day of school in Fort Worth ISD — she was hired after the school year already started last year.

“I woke up at 3 a.m. because I’m so excited,” she said outside of T.A. Sims.

Part of her excitement is for all the new teachers starting jobs in Fort Worth ISD. In previous school years, the district started school with 300-400 open teaching jobs. This year, Ramsey said that number is down to 95.

The district hosted a new teacher academy to help new teachers prepare for the year and match them with a mentor, she said. 

Mostly, Fort Worth ISD needs more bilingual and special education teachers, Ramsey said. 

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‘A new set of kids to love’

At Rufino Mendoza Elementary School on the Northside, fifth grade teacher Amanda Inay spent the morning getting to know her students. She believes that sharing more about herself can help build trust in her classroom.

Inay told her class about how her mother struggled with alcoholism and drug addiction. For Inay, school was important to her growing up because it was a place where someone, her teacher, believed in her.

“It’s very important when you’re trying to do something hard, that you have someone that believes that you can do it,” she said. “You guys are the most important gift we have. You are our future. I wanted to make sure that you guys had a loving teacher to support you.”

Next, Inay took out the book “A Letter From Your Teacher on the First Day of School” and read it aloud to her students. Before school started, she wrote an individual letter to each of her 20 students that they all read to themselves after the story.

She then had all of the students write a letter to her about themselves, what they love and what they’re excited for in school. All of the exercises doubled as teaching literacy, and everyone getting to know each other.

“It’s very important that my students know that I love them, that I support them,” Inay said. “I do see them as a whole child and I’m here to help with whatever they need.”

Inay had one of her best school years in her 17 years of teaching last year — she won Fort Worth ISD’s elementary teacher of the year award.

She wasn’t sure how to keep up the momentum, but the closer the school year got, the more Inay realized it’s simple.

“I have a set of brand new babies that are waiting on me to change their life and to show them that it’s possible and that they’re worth it,” she said. “It doesn’t matter, all the accolades and the awards. This is going to be the best year because I’m going to know that I have a new set of kids to love.”

Kristen Barton is an education reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at kristen.barton@fortworthreport.org.

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