Teachers urgently needed
A combination of factors including comparatively low salaries, challenging working conditions, emphasis on measured results, increase in retirements, and decline in new enrollees in the profession, is depleting the number of teachers in South Florida schools.
In Miami-Dade County, a shortage of some 150 vacancies were reported at the beginning of the school year. In Broward County, earlier this year the school district had some 80 vacancies and Palm Beach County about 120.
The number of vacancies seems small in the three districts with an average of 12,000 teachers each. However, Broward School Superintendent Robert Runcie expressed concern with the retirement of teachers while less people are entering the profession, “The growing teacher shortage is one of the biggest problems facing public education today.” Runcie previously called for a special task force to address the teacher shortage problem, and state and federal governments to increase funding for teacher’s salaries.
Florida teachers are paid an average of $48,000 annually, while increases in salary in recent years averaged 3 percent annually. “And we had to virtually suck salt through a wooden spoon to get the increase,” said Wolford Harris who recently retired as a Math teacher from the Miami-Dade School District.
“But it’s more than the salary issue,” Harris said. “It’s also the unnecessary stress; the everlasting testing requirements, and the correlation between student’s test results and teacher’s performance. The system is not favorable to teachers. We work under perpetual stress.”
According to the Florida Department of Education, applications for teacher certificates fell some 17 percent between 2006 and 2014, from 71,781 to 59,334 applicants.
Enrollment for teaching courses have declined at two of South Florida’s higher educational institutions. At Florida International University (FIU), enrollment in undergraduate education programs fell from some 1,300 students in 2013 to 1,161 in 2015, and at Miami-Dade College from 300 in 2014 to 219 in 2015.
The teacher shortages are particularly reflected in the crucial math, science and technology subjects. Runcie also wants state educational leaders to stem this problem by creating means to attract science, technology, engineering and math professionals into teaching, making these teaching jobs more competitive with private-sector jobs.
Jose Dortes, head of human capital at the Miami-Dade School district, said the district will continue placing emphasis on teacher recruitment and retention well into the future. The measures the district is taking includes promoting teaching programs for high school students to interest them in the profession from early, and expand mentorship programs for new teachers to ensure they remain in the profession.
Palm Beach and Broward County school districts are also focusing on stoking early interest in the teaching profession in public school students by visiting classrooms and meeting with students.
Vanessa Barnes, a Jamaican teacher in Lake Worth, sees the shortage as a “realistic career opportunity for Jamaican teachers migrating to South Florida. Jamaican teachers are committed, hardly deterred by salary issues or classroom challenges. They should grasp the opportunities.”