Johannes Werner: There’s a teacher shortage and the Sarasota school district held a job fair yesterday. WSLR reporter Sophia Brown was there to tell us how it went. She also talked to teachers to find out what makes them stay away.
Host: Under new state policies, anything teachers do or say can trigger parental intervention. And that, in turn, can lead to reprimands, bans or worse. And that goes hand in hand with new controversial content that they have to teach.
Governor Ron DeSantis’ war on woke in K-12 schools has culminated thus far on July 19, when the Department of Education approved social studies standards that include middle schoolers being taught that slavery gave African Americans beneficial skills.
And on Monday, the department also approved material created by unaccredited conservative nonprofit PragerU to be taught in Florida K-12 classrooms. Material like videos with titles such, “Make Men Masculine Again, ” “Why You Should Be a Nationalist,” and “Dangerous People Are Teaching Your Kids.”
This increasingly popular rhetoric that educators are not to be trusted has come with dire consequences. Starting in April this year, more and more reports of brain drain from Florida universities have cropped up. Brain drain refers to educators and scholars fleeing public universities in the state to lend their talents elsewhere.
On July 6, the Tampa Bay Times reported that faculty at major universities across Florida are opting for lower-paying jobs out of state. One employee of the University of Florida reported that several prospective hires over the past few months have “expressed mixed feelings about coming to Florida in its current political climate.” And at Florida Gulf Coast University, one professor is saying that open positions that once drew over 200 applications now see fewer than 20.
Brain drain also isn’t a phenomenon that only got started this summer. In 2022, 103 faculty resigned from the University of Central Florida, 136 left Florida State University, and 146 left the University of South Florida—all setting records for the number of faculty lost over the past four-to-five years.
Closer to home, Sarasota’s own public college, the New College of Florida, needs to fill 36 faculty positions, which is more than 1/3 of the college’s total faculty, all of which were vacated this year.
And brain drain is affecting K-12 schools too. With only two weeks before classes start, Lee County needs to fill about 350 teaching jobs this year according to WINK News. Hillsborough County is working to hire about 600 more substitute teachers and Broward County has a total of 800 instructional and non-instructional positions open, according to WFTS and CBS Miami respectively.
As of yesterday, 164 positions need to be filled in Sarasota County, 112 instructional positions and 52 non-instructional positions like food service, bus drivers and classroom aides. This means that Sarasota County doesn’t have as much catching up to do as other Florida counties. But at yesterday’s Sarasota County Schools Job Fair at 1960 Landings Boulevard, only 25 people showed up throughout the three hour event. Even if all 25 are hired, that’s still 139 vacant positions with only two weeks left to fill them.
One recruiter for Sarasota County schools at the job fair, Christina Rogers-Hehr, explained to WSLR News some of the benefits that Sarasota County has over some of its neighbors.
Christina Rogers-Hehr: You know, here in Sarasota, Sarasota County, we’re really fortunate that we’ve been able to provide a lot of incentives that some of our surrounding districts can’t provide. And so we’ve increased our starting teacher salary higher than our surrounding districts, we’re providing incentives for ESE or special education positions. Also in our Title I schools, which are more low income.
Host: But these benefits aren’t enough for everyone. Janet Allen moved to Sarasota in 2015 with prior experience in teaching English to all high school grades, honors and mixed ESE classes. She was hired at Venice High School and initially loved the support and autonomy provided to teachers by administrators.
But ever since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, when teachers became expected to balance online, in person and hybrid classes, that autonomy began to dissolve.
Janet Allen: I weathered the big pandemic because I felt like things will improve after this. Things will get better, you know. Unfortunately, they didn’t.
We had administrators who were really becoming increasingly protective of themselves rather than teachers. Administrators who were more concerned about pleasing the loudest, most insistent, like, I’ll say it, the scariest parents instead of supporting teachers.
Host: Janet described the political climate in Florida and at Sarasota County over the past few years as one that pushes the narrative that teachers are unreliable or indoctrinating students, which eventually pushed her out of the profession entirely.
JA: Teachers go into it knowing that it’s difficult, that they will not be paid very much no matter what part of the country they’re in. And yet there’s this prevailing idea that teachers are the enemy, teachers don’t know what they’re doing, teachers are not professionals. And the fact that the politicians have written these laws that enable parents to come in and say, “You don’t know what, how to teach.”
Host: Pam Novak, who teaches English honors and AP English classes at Pine View School for the Gifted, has taught there for five years and is continuing to teach this upcoming year. However, Pam was also pushed to close her classroom library in February following a wave of book bannings and is no longer comfortable opening up her classroom to tours or visits.
Pam Novak: I no longer allow anyone to enter my classroom who is not, like a current student, or someone that I have a relationship with because I don’t trust in this environment that there aren’t people who are trying to directly attack me and my classroom and my teaching and take it out of context, because I’ve seen way too much of that.
And as far as the way that I facilitate the work with the students’ reading and the discussions, I feel like I can really go deeply into exploring the literature without ever imposing any viewpoints of my own because the works of literature speak for themselves.
Host: Recruiters at the Sarasota County Schools Job Fair are also planning to organize a Virtual Job Fair on Monday, July 31, for instructor positions only in order to further fill in those gaps.
But for educators like Janet, who have renounced the Sarasota County school system, she says that the only thing that could convince her to return is a major cultural shift in how parents and politicians view teachers.
JA: At some point, voters need to wake up to the fact that our Floridian students are going to be so far behind the rest of the United States in their education, that when they go out of the state for jobs—I mean, there’s such a stigma already attached to being from Florida. It’s going to put our kids even further behind.
The fact that politicians are pulling strings when it comes to kids’ education is is really troubling. I don’t think I could ever go back to teaching in Florida full time.
Host: This has been Sophia Brown reporting for WSLR News.
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