POLK COUNTY, Fla. — One of Florida’s largest school districts is struggling to fill teaching positions as students head back to school next week.
“It’s very concerning the number of teachers that are quitting, the number of teachers looking for other jobs,” said Octavio Hernandez.
Octavio Hernandez teaches algebra at Citrus Ridge Academy. He said the pandemic has led some educators to rethink their work.
“Teachers are seeing so many mental issues with students as well, that it has become overwhelming. I myself have had over six students that have been Baker Acted,” Hernandez said.
He said the stress of the job and a lack of pay has also contributed to the teacher shortage in Polk County Public Schools.
The district currently has 162 teaching positions open. Hernandez is concerned fewer teachers will mean larger class sizes.
“Class size is perhaps the biggest variable that we have to student success. You have smaller class sizes, it’s easier for a teacher to do one-on-one interaction,” Hernandez said.
The district has been holding virtual job fairs every other week to recruit teachers.
“Also bringing in a cultural exchange program. We’re getting about 70 teachers who are certified with teaching experience from other countries, specifically the Philippines, Jamaica, India,” Jessica Solano, PCPS Teacher Engagement Leader said.
Hernandez believes higher pay is needed to recruit and retain teachers.
“Almost every teacher I know has a second job,” he said.
Another virtual job fair is set for August 11.