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Florida needs 9,000 more teachers just weeks ahead of the start of school

Education leaders worry about attracting and retaining teachers
Florida teacher
Posted at 4:35 PM, Jul 21, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-25 11:16:38-04

PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — School districts statewide are working to fill 9,000 teacher vacancies with just weeks until the start of the school year, according to numbers from the Florida Education Association (FEA).

“Our public schools are really at a crisis level seeing this massive number of vacancies,” said Andrew Spar the Florida Education Association President.

Pinellas County spent Thursday hosting an all-day virtual job fair to find educators. The district was able to get its number of openings down to 163 teacher jobs. Sarasota County Schools is still looking to hire 126 instructors. Hillsborough County has 700 instructional vacancies. Hernando County has 107.

All Tampa Bay-area districts told ABC Action News that they have more vacancies now than they did at this time last year.

“While we have a large number of instructional vacancies right now, which is not unique to Hillsborough County, this is a great resignation we are seeing across the state and the nation. Know that we are doing everything that we can to be able to recruit and retain the best and the brightest for your children,” explained Hillsborough County Schools Superintendent Addison Davis.

Davis continued, “When we look at 700+ vacancies within our school districts instructionally, we’ve got to be able to find solutions to win the talent war.”

Education leaders are begging the state to act fast to fund higher teacher salaries, reward long-time educators, and recruit more people into the field.

“In 2010, there were 8,000 graduates from Florida’s colleges and universities becoming teachers. That number was between 2,000 and 3,000 for the year that just ended. That’s a significant drop-off,” Spar added.

Florida students in classroom
A bookbag sits in front of students learning in a Florida classroom.

Dr. Christy Foust is among those teachers recently leaving the profession.

“The kids were the only thing that made that decision really hard,” she said.

COVID-19 and the lack of full-time virtual positions in Pinellas County happened to be the last straw for her. Yet, she said lack of resources, respect, and pay also factored into her decision.

“Would you stay in your position if gun safety was a growing crisis in your workplace and you only got thoughts and prayers when another issue happens? Would you stay in your job if you’re not paid enough based on your education and experience? Would you want to stay in a role where you can’t be yourself as an LGBTQ teacher or black or teacher of color when legislation from Tallahassee says don’t say gay?” Foust said.

The American Federation of Teachers found nationwide 79% of educators are dissatisfied with their jobs. Worries about school violence are only making matters worse, explained Pinellas County Teacher’s Union President Nancy Velardi.

“When the tragedy in Uvalde happened, every teacher’s stomach dropped. It is an overwhelming, difficult job to do already, and now you are reminded there may come a day that I have to make those snap decisions for my students,” Velardi added.

Incoming Pinellas County 5th grader Tegra Wanydwe may be young, but he worries about the teacher shortage too.

“Other kids they’re like school is terrible, but when you have a good teacher and the right teacher, it makes school fun. When you have a good teacher, you just become better in education and in mental health. It’s just amazing to have a good teacher,” he explained.

Districts are now working hard to hire as fast as they can, giving kids like Tegra the role models they need to succeed. But education union leaders say more needs to be done to enhance the profession immediately.

“Our teachers just can’t afford to live here. We lost a lot who didn’t want to leave teaching but had to leave the area. What will happen is the classes will be crowded and research shows smaller class size gives a better option for a good education so teachers can give the attention needed to children and that won’t happen if you’re jamming the classes full,” Velardi added.

Dr. Foust said many of her fellow teacher friends are also leaving the profession, and she worries about the future of education in Florida.

“It is super unfortunate both for them (the teachers) but also the district losing these amazing, experienced teachers who have so much to share with the students,” she elaborated.

Classroom sign at a Florida school
A classroom sign at a Florida school.