North Central Florida teacher shortage continues

Robert Béland couldn’t stand the way his statistics teacher taught.

He knew he could do a better job of relating topics to students. So Beland, 74, of Keystone Heights, became a teacher.

After earning a Ph.D. in Therapeutic Recreation at the University of Maryland in 1980, he taught 20 different courses for 35 years in the Department of Tourism, Recreation, and Sports Management at the University of Florida.

His retirement lasted less than eight years.

He began supply teaching at local elementary schools in his area due to teacher shortages throughout Florida during the pandemic.

“Teaching is like riding a bicycle,” he said.

Teacher shortages in K-12 classrooms had been prevalent since before the pandemic, according to administrators at North Central Florida schools.

However, they say COVID-19 has increased the problems for educators. This led to more openings in school districts. Although many programs are being implemented to increase morale and career longevity, many job openings in North Central Florida schools remain open.

In 2017, the Putnam County School District retained 65% of teachers with zero to three years of experience, said Kristin Carroll, an educational human resources administrator. The district created a mentorship program to increase its retention of new teachers.

Carroll said retention rates had increased to 93% by the 2019-20 school year, but the percentage has dropped to 85% since the pandemic.

She believes the pandemic has taken people away from education and many people have changed careers during or after 2020.

A survey by the American Association of Colleges for Teacher education found that education programs have seen a significant drop in enrollment during the pandemic. He also found that the average teacher salary nationally is only $61,000, which discourages new teachers.

Despite the success of the Putnam County mentorship program, there is still a shortage.

“We still have positions open. Even one opening is too much. We continue to recruit,” Carroll said.

A franchise of a STEM education program for elementary school students opened in Tampa in 2014. Bricks 4 Kidz teaches science, technology, engineering, and math using Lego bricks.

Franchise owner John Fontana said he started introducing the program to local elementary schools to help teachers earn extra money, and that the existence of the program is accessible to more people. students.

Fontana, 38, of Tampa, said there were more than 1,000 children in the program and about 30 teachers. He was able to convince the principals to let him hire their teachers to help run the program.

“They can make $750 to $1,000 a year working an hour a week after school,” he said.

While programs like Bricks 4 Kidz can create higher salaries for teachers, that doesn’t solve the statewide teacher shortage problem.

In North Central Florida, schools in Alachua County still need teachers despite the historic $10.5 million in additional funding the state has allocated for teacher salaries.

District spokesperson Jackie Johnson said COVID-19 had taken its toll on the district, but other issues were in place before the pandemic.

Johnson said the proximity to the University of Florida and its college of education put Alachua County in a better position than most. Johnson said there have been recruiting efforts out of UF, but fewer people now want to become and remain teachers.

“We want to not just recruit but retain,” Johnson said.

Alachua County Schools will soon launch a new recruiting website to promote open positions, she said.

Kimberly Thomas, 39, of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, quits school after six years.

Thomas said she always had problems in K-12 because teachers didn’t welcome creative thinkers. Teachers often focus on standardized tests and benchmarks, she said.

After her husband passed away when she was 32, she decided to follow her passion for art education. Thomas is pursuing a doctorate. at Florida State University in Arts Education.

Thomas said she had 35-45 students in a class, which gives her about 30 seconds per student.

“It’s not a functional way to educate a student,” she said.

Thomas said she couldn’t survive financially teaching without her husband’s Social Security death benefit. His average take-home pay is $3,500 a month, with the average rent in St. Johns County approaching one-third that amount.

She said that after completing her doctorate, she would like to start a micro-school where standardization is not the priority.

“Teaching in middle school is my calling,” she said, “The more my research progresses, the clearer it becomes that we are not serving children well in the United States”

Listen below: Kimberly Thomas explains she’s ready to quit school after six years as she admits teaching is her calling in life. Thomas shares her deep-rooted issues with K-12 education in the United States and why it’s not serving her or her students. (Ashley Weinstein/WUFT News)

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