Florida’s education industry at odds amid teacher shortage
Florida is dealing with a major teacher shortage crisis that has proven to be a barrier in the education industry. According to a report from the Florida Department of Education, there were 3,363 teacher vacancies during the 2020-21 school year. That number has risen to 4,489 vacancies this school year, leading to uncertainty about the future of the profession.
“It makes me think about whether I will want to leave in a few years as well,” said Danika Mays, a teacher next year at Northboro Elementary School in West Palm Beach.
The teacher shortage isn’t a byproduct of the COVID-19 pandemic, rather it has exacerbated and highlighted one of Florida’s most prominent issues.
“The teacher shortage was pre-existing,” said Andrew Spar, the president of the Florida Education Association. “(The pandemic) may have made it worse in some respects, but most importantly the pandemic shined a light on what is really going on in public schools for teachers and staff.”
There are many reasons behind the teacher shortage, but Spar said he believes it comes down to a lack of respect for teachers. According to the National Education Association, Florida’s average teacher salary of $51,000 ranks 48th in the nation.
“Respect comes in multiple forms and part of it is pay and a fair system of pay, which there is neither in Florida,” Spar said.
In addition to pay, where Florida ranks near the bottom in the United States, Spar said he believes another facet of respect is how teachers are treated.
“There’s been such an ongoing relentless undermining of our teachers for 20 years now, and it’s taking its toll,” Spar said. “But especially at a high level since 2011 when (Senate Bill 736) was passed in the legislature that reformed how teachers are evaluated and paid.”
Moreover, Mays said she believes there must be more action taken and that Florida should fight for good teachers. Likewise, Spar said he believes that the future of the teaching industry will look worse if action isn’t taken.
It’s not just teachers being affected by the shortage as students have also been negatively impacted. According to a report from the Florida Department of Education, almost 10% of courses statewide are being taught by a teacher not certified in that course field. The most prominent areas being taught by an uncertified teacher are ESE, which helps children with disabilities advance in school, as well as elementary education and English.
“I have a daughter who is in seventh grade, and she has not had a science teacher since January,” Spar said. “Her science teacher came back from winter break and gave her two weeks’ notice because she felt that the way teachers are being treated was not worth the sacrifice.”
Spar said that he believes one way to fix this shortage is by making a major investment in the education profession and to put an end to controlling teachers' ability to educate their students.
“People don’t look to teach in Florida when they’re going to be paid and treated so poorly,” Spar said.
By Aaron Heckmann