School districts across the country are struggling to keep qualified teachers in the classroom. Here's a look into what the shortage means for Leon County.
The rallying cry of educators and researchers is familiar: they say teachers are overworked and underpaid. Some say the private sector takes many bright young graduates away from public service. Leon County Schools’ Deena McAllister says the district is struggling to meet the need for math, science and special education instructors.
“It is. We have a huge problem. Across the nation it’s a shortage,” she said.
She’s in charge of hiring for Leon County schools, so she knows all about the teacher shortage.
“We’re not paid like professional basketball players or professional athletes. We do a great work for a nominal amount of money. But we impact the world,” she said.
But the research shows administrators are struggling to find the best people for the job. According to the Florida Department of Education, in the 2013 – 2014 school year, nearly 11% of new English teachers weren’t properly certified. Leon County Schools Superintendent Jackie Pons says it’s difficult to retain recent graduates from local universities.
“We have some of the best universities in the nation. We have Florida A & M, Florida State, we have Flagler, TCC. So we’re able to get a lot of applicants. But even with that, we sometimes have trouble with science, math, ESE, special areas like that,” he said.
The county is launching a hiring push to try and fill those positions. Shakeela Sims attended a district-wide job fair earlier this month. She has five years of teaching experience in Jefferson County, but she wants to move back to Leon. She loves her job, she just wishes it was a little easier.
“I have a spouse and we work together so it’s not that hard. But I could imagine if I were single, and I have two daughters. So I couldn’t imagine being a single parent trying to keep up with all the finances on my own. It’s pretty tough as a teacher,” she said.
Statistics show that Sims could be at an important crossroads. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have found that nearly half of all teachers will leave within five years. And Leon County is working to keep those young teachers in the classroom. Deena McAllister believes it comes down to good relationships.
“We place them in good teams. We place them with good mentors. We put them in a beginning teacher program that helps equip them to help form those relationships with senior teachers as well as teachers in the district. So they can have that foundation. If your foundation is strong, you develop those relationships, then that means people want to return and they’ll want to stay," she said.
Researchers and educators will continue to track the nationwide trends behind the critical shortage. But many local districts are just staying afloat: Leon County is currently trying to replace the 233 teachers that retired this year.