Happy New Year, everyone!
I hope that you, your family and friends all had a wonderful holiday season and winter break away from school. Many school districts throughout Florida returned to school this past week, and here in Hillsborough we’ll resume classes this coming Tuesday. And while I did my best to focus on everything but education during the break, I couldn’t quite escape doing so because of television ads like this…
Part of the College Football Playoff Foundation’s outreach efforts include the “Extra Yard for Teachers,” an awareness campaign that culminates during the bowl week leading up to the national championship (and has for the last few years). While the mission is noteworthy, it is equally troubling. Never in my life could I have imagined a point at which we would have a teacher shortage in the United States. And yet here we are, watching these commercials on TV.
Our elected officials of all levels–national, state, and local–have known about this phenomenon for nearly a decade now, and you know it’s particularly pernicious and routinely ignored by the powers-that-be when it comes to having advertisements try to encourage people to enter the profession. The truth is teaching is a noble profession, but it is one that no one will want when scorn is continually heaped upon it by those who have no idea what it means to educate a child, or when a career choice routinely pays 20% less than other college educated peers, or when professional autonomy and creativity is largely sacrificed for the sake of the one-size-fits-all standardized testing model that was enshrined in horrible policy such as NCLB, RTTP, or ESSA and later cemented into place by the educational industrial complex headed by Pearson.
All of this, of course, is backed by stats that can easily be found with a quick Google search, the most problematic of which shows a decline in college-bound students enrolling in education as a major. In the last decade alone this number has declined by 40% and will probably continue to grow worse, especially here in the Sunshine State where the legislature seems hell bent on never properly funding public education.
The teacher shortage is a national issue, but Florida will have an even more difficult time filling empty classrooms with qualified teachers. As a current report notes, Florida ranks 40th in average teacher salary yet is 26th in cost of living. This disconnect means not only are teachers making far less than their college educated peers, their earnings are not commensurate with the cost of living, thereby creating a more difficult economic environment for those working to ensure a bright future for all of our state’s students.
And if that weren’t problematic enough, think about how counties will soon begin to cannibalize one another in search of highly qualified teachers. Here in Hillsborough county, for instance, we lag every surrounding county for starting teacher salary by $2-5K. As former HCPS teacher and 2010 Florida Teacher of the Year Megan Allen noted in her recent op-ed, her younger sister didn’t even consider Hillsborough but only looked in nearby Polk. She goes on to illustrate how difficult it will be for Hillsborough–and by extension all of Florida–to recruit and retain high quality teachers to prepare our children for their future.
Ten years ago, I constantly encouraged my students to enter the profession if they expressed an interest. Five years ago, I still encouraged my students to become teachers, but with reservations about which I was completely candid. Today–and I’m ashamed to admit this–I tell former students who want to become teachers to do so but to leave Florida altogether and seek out a place that pays teachers what they are worth and respects them for their contribution to our collective society. There aren’t many places in the U.S that still do.
And I fear that soon enough there won’t be any at all…