The Search for Teachers is Real

Guest Correspondence

“I wonder what teachers make,” muses a little red-headed girl, her back leaning against a tree trunk.

 “A difference, Peppermint Patty, they make a difference!” 

The sage wisdom of Charlie Brown, the lovable main character in Charles Schulz’s iconic cartoon strip “Peanuts,” is portrayed in the comics, but the issue reverberates beyond the funny pages. And it is no laughing matter.

There’s no question about it: Life-changing teachers make a difference for students. The fact is bolstered by heartfelt and grateful testimonies of legions of students and their families whose lives were changed for the better because a teacher cared. 

This, however, is not a laudatory greeting card to teachers. This is a call to action; we don’t have the luxury of time for sentimentalism without concurrent fast and effective steps that help stem the steady stream of teachers walking away from classrooms. 

The stark reality is we don’t have enough teachers returning to the classroom or entering the profession to offset the rate at which they’re leaving. 

This emergency didn’t happen overnight. For years we knew Baby Boomers would retire at a faster pace and higher rate than Millennials would enter the profession. But recent compounding factors caused the looming shortage to accelerate and spiral.

Sobering data provides a quick glance at the shortage challenges confronting our own high-performing district, the state and the nation: 

At the end of August, entering the fourth week of the 2022 school year, some 70-plus classroom teachers and direct pupil support positions remain unfilled on the Sarasota County Schools jobs posting website. 

The statewide picture is grimmer with around 8,000 classroom teacher vacancies two weeks before the start of the new school year, according to data from the Florida Department of Education. 

An alarming number of open positions at all grade levels were in Exceptional Student Education; science, reading, math, English and English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL). These certification areas are difficult to attract and retain. 

From FLDOE: “These shortage areas represent certification areas where substantial proportions of teachers who are not certified in the appropriate field are being hired to teach such courses, where significant vacancies exist and where postsecondary institutions do not produce enough graduates to meet the needs of Florida’s K-12 student population.”

Need evidence about the detrimental national effect? 

From the Wall Street Journal, June 20: “Some 300,000 public-school teachers and other staff left the field between February 2020 and May 2022, a nearly 3% drop in that workforce, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data . . . A National Education Association poll conducted this year found 55% of teachers said they would leave education sooner than planned, up from 37% last August.” (The 55% rate in 2022 is more than double the number in July 2020.)

Examining what’s behind the lower rate of teachers entering the profession at the same time more teachers exit leads directly to the challenges of working conditions and overall compensation. 

If teachers need a side hustle to pay rent, that is problematic in itself. While Florida recently increased pay for first-year teachers and is now implementing increases for veteran teachers, we need to do even more to appropriately raise the value and respect highly qualified teachers bring to our community and economy. 

Compensation obviously is a determinant in a teacher’s decision, but other, more complex factors impact a teacher’s job satisfaction and turnover rate. 

The RAND Corporation’s 2022 State of the American Teacher and American Principal Report included the alarming key finding that 73% of teachers and 85% of principals experienced frequent job-related stress, compared with 35% of working adults. 

In WSJ, several teachers attributed their resignation decision to COVID fatigue and other stressors combined to create an unprecedented amount of stress and increased mental and physical health problems among students and teachers. 

Classroom teachers themselves provide answers. The New Teacher Center, a teacher-founded organization that works for educator effectiveness, cites several non-monetary reasons that impact teacher job satisfaction and retention, among them: leadership and policies that give them greater autonomy, teacher-led professional development, and access to community resources for their students.

Solutions from the nonprofit The Center for Teaching Quality include hybrid roles for teachers and balancing classroom instruction with other roles designed around individual teachers’ strengths—curriculum development, peer coaching, and mentoring new teachers—to “fill the bucket” of strong teachers.

On a more personal and local basis, we have tangible and immediate ways to show our support for teachers and encourage their ability to form the next generation. 

One of the greatest gifts that highly effective and qualified teachers have is the ability to forge healthy relationships with students and families. To encourage a respectful environment, we all can be mindful of our conversation in front of children and remember children behave according to the blame, praise or respect of teachers they hear at home. 

The Education Foundation of Sarasota County (EdFoundationSRQ.org) offers ways to directly support teacher requests for class projects through DonorsChoose as well as help fund larger classroom and schoolwide grants through our signature program, EducateSRQ. 

We also invite community members to contact us if they are interested in supporting teachers. We have daunting challenges in front of us.  What we cannot afford to do is nothing. Let’s all work together to ensure our teachers have the resources and support they need every day, excited to help students grow into healthy, happy, productive citizens. 

Jennifer Vigne is president and CEO of the Education Foundation of Sarasota County. 

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