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Josh Gabel
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Josh Gabel

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STEM the Tide of Vacant Teacher Positions

Thursday, December 15, 2016

STEM the Tide of Vacant Teacher Positions

America’s education system is facing a crisis that will affect our children and our future. Teachers have been leaving schools at alarming rates with no one to replace them.

School districts across the nation face significant shortages as retirement, increased population and poor working conditions have pressured established teachers to leave. Additionally, low pay and the stress associated with teaching have driven many college students away from the profession, leaving a shallow talent pool of highly qualified teachers. Addressing this issue is critical in improving the education system and failure to do so will have long-lived implications.

In Florida, class size reform has led to many teachers leaving schools and they are often replaced by under-qualified individuals. To combat this, districts are exhausting every option to entice teachers, recruiting from the Midwest states and, interestingly, Puerto Rico. The majority of these shortages in Florida are in English and the traditional science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM)  fields.

In an effort to hire more STEM teachers, the Florida Legislature has been working to break down barriers to entry and incentivize quality educators in STEM fields. Currently, Florida requires new hires to take a variety of tests over a period of multiple years, all of which must be paid for out of pocket. This doesn’t encourage graduates to pursue teaching. A bill signed into law during the 2016 Legislative Session exempts high-performing STEM teachers from required extra classes if they have advanced degrees. Lawmakers are looking at ways to extend the exemption to those with Bachelor degrees in STEM fields as well.

Lawmakers also considered loan forgiveness for STEM teachers last year but both the Senate and House bills died in session. The goal was to encourage qualified college graduates to remain in Florida and to teach a STEM course at a public school.

Experts say that while hiring new teachers is important, keeping established teachers is crucial to ending the teaching shortage. In the United States, teacher attrition is at 8 percent annually. Impoverished and minority communities typically struggle the most with teachers leaving, since the stress is often higher and wages lower.

Options like higher wages and improved working conditions would result in a lower attrition rate and ensure that students are receiving a high quality education. A recent report found that creating more productive and stable work environments led to fewer teachers leaving, especially those with staffing issues. The report also found that by offering principals training programs to foster positive work environments, teachers were more likely stay.

The teacher shortage is an issue that won’t just affect our children; it will affect the direction of this country. Without high quality teachers in the classrooms, children will suffer, making it harder for them to adjust to college and their careers.    

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or Phone: 850.212.5052

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