Orlando Sentinel | By Leslie Postal | August 16, 2022
Carver Middle School in Orlando welcomed students back to campus last week still needing to hire 19 teachers, meaning a third of its instructional positions were filled by temporary help.
As classes began, Carver needed to hire six math teachers, five science teachers, four language arts teachers and a smattering of others, according to Orange County Public Schools’ online employment page.
The school, which enrolls about 700 students, is a sign of the times.
A week into the new academic year OCPS and other Central Florida school districts all need teachers for many of their campuses and, like counterparts across Florida, all are struggling to find enough job candidates.
The Osceola County school district posted the most vacancies of any local district — 256 openings Monday, including 20 at Liberty High School. Liberty needs algebra, geometry and reading teachers as well as several instructors for students with autism, among others, the district’s employment website shows.
Osceola, which has a countywide instructional staff of 4,074, searched for teachers all summer and hired 646 new instructors before the first day of school Aug. 10.
“That’s an astonishing number,” said Greg White, Osceola’s teacher recruitment and retention specialist, of 2022′s new hires.
But it was not enough.
A key contributor to the teacher shortage is fewer college students majoring in education and planning on teaching careers. That means school districts are competing for a smaller pool of job candidates and now looking at “not just finding teachers but making teachers,” White said, with “grow your own” programs that start in high school and recruitment drives aimed at luring other professionals into teaching.
Many teachers say low morale brought on by frustrations with new state laws restricting what can be taught and what books can be used and with a pay system that doesn’t value veteran instructors is a big problem, too. Those frustrations have led to more mid-career resignations and contributed to hiring needs that never abate, especially as the state’s population continues to grow.
“Respect, autonomy, workload and, of course, you know the pay,” said Lare Allen, president of the Osceola teachers union, listing reasons for diminishing interest in teaching careers and current teacher resignations.
“We’re supposed to be the experts. Then we’re told what to do and how to do that,” Allen said.
The statewide teachers shortage has not spared any local district. Seminole County Public Schools, the region’s top-performing school system, had 60 teacher vacancies on Aug. 5, just ahead of the new school year, and had a few teachers resign during the first three days of classes last week.
“All of us in Central Florida are competing for the same group of people,” said Shawn Gard-Harrold, a Seminole assistant superintendent. “The last three hiring cycles have been tough,” he said, noting finding teachers has been harder since the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Its challenging because you fill one at one school and the next thing you know another teacher has resigned from another school,” he said.
The problems are everywhere in Florida, with teacher openings from Daytona Beach to Sarasota, Jacksonville to Miami. The Florida Education Association estimated the school year started in Florida with about 8,000 teacher vacancies statewide.
In Orange, administrators still want to hire about 100 teachers, most notably at Carver Middle.
Carver, a C-rated school in the Carver Shores neighborhood southwest of downtown Orlando, has struggled to find and keep teachers previously, especially after it earned an F grade from the state in 2016, its second in four years. At the time, Carver students posted some of the lowest test scores in the state.
In 2017, OCPS announced a three-year incentive plan that would pay experienced teachers an extra $70,000 if they took jobs at Carver, which serves a mostly low-income student population. More than 500 applied for about 50 jobs.
The school has been C-rated since then. The incentive program ended in 2020, however, and 25 teachers from an instructional staff of 55 left the school during the 2020-21 school year, according to Carver’s school improvement plan.
Vicki-Elaine Felder, the Orange County School Board member whose district includes Carver, said that program’s sunset could be to blame.
“When the incentives were no longer in place, I think a lot of people just decided to leave,” said Felder, a veteran OCPS teacher when she won her seat on the board.
Bridget Williams, the district’s chief of staff, said some of the Carver resignations this year are routine, including maternity leaves and promotions to dean and assistant principals positions at other schools. A few teachers working on temporary state certificates had to leave because they did not pass needed state exams within the required three years, she added.
Despite the need for many new teachers, no Carver class is without an instructor, Williams said, as resource teachers from the school and the district — certified teachers tasked with helping others improve their lessons — are filling in most of openings. Two are filled by long-term substitutes.
Five new hires are on the way, Williams added, and the district is working “side by side with Carver” to find more.
Like others, Williams said “we’re having to think outside of the box” for teacher recruitment because traditional college education programs do not graduate as many candidates anymore.
The University of Central Florida, historically the state’s largest supplier of new teachers, graduated 553 elementary school teachers in 2010, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics. In 2020, that number had dropped to 325.
The University of South Florida saw a similar decline, with the number of new elementary school teaching graduates dropping from 300 to 148 in those 10 years.
Florida pushed in recent years to raise starting pay for new teachers, and it is now above $48,000 in some Central Florida counties. But the state’s plan has left little money to boost pay for veterans, meaning some now earn not much more than recent college graduates.
“Why would you want to become a teacher?” Allen said.