Driven by restrictive mandates and slow salary growth, Florida’s 9,000 teaching vacancies lead to drastic measures


Isabella Conrado

Class sizes at Olympic Heights, such as that of social studies teacher Ms. Wendy Zietz, have increased significantly from those of last year.

Since the summer 2022, schools nationwide have been experiencing a severe teacher shortage. In Florida alone, there were more than 9,000 unfilled teaching positions at the beginning of the 2022-23 school year. Fortunately, this crisis has not had a significant impact on Olympic Heights, but other schools in the Palm Beach school district are struggling to fill positions. 

With the teacher shortage comes worries about the quality of education students are getting in classrooms that are being manned by personnel other than certified teachers. Florida’s approach to solving the problem has done little to alleviate those concerns. 

To address its teacher shortage, Florida is offering five-year teaching certificates to former military or law enforcement personnel and their spouses who have “60 college credits, a passing score on a Florida subject area exam for bachelor level subject, and a job in a Florida schools district.” Other states are relying on similar plans which now have teachers’ unions and many parents concerned that the education of those states’ children are being put in the hands of under-qualified personnel. 

Additionally Florida teachers are having to rethink their approach to their curriculum due to four bills signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis that can be perceived to dictate what materials can be taught and how those materials are to be taught. These bills include the so-called “Don’t Say Gay Bill’ (House Bill 1557) which prohibits discussion in the lower grade levels and limits discussion in the higher grade levels on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Then there is House Bill 1467 that has educators concerned that DeSantis and the Florida legislature are now engaged in book banning. According to a press release from DeSantis’s office, the bill “requires school districts to be transparent in the selection of instructional materials, including library and reading materials. As a part of the Year of the Parent, this legislation aims to preserve the rights of parents to make decisions about what materials their children are exposed to in school.”

House Bill 1467 essentially allows parents who are not happy with the subject matter being taught in their child’s class to personally sue the teacher with the teacher being solely responsible for any damages awarded. The bill has already led to several Florida school districts banning the teaching of certain books and having those books removed from their school libraries. The bill is also seen as severely limiting classroom discussion on cultural issues.

These bills are only exacerbating the teacher shortage in Florida as they are causing many Florida teachers to leave the profession. “I am sure there are teachers that are apprehensive about the field of teaching because of the house bill and not understanding exactly what the state is saying about that,” OH principal Ms. Kelly Burke commented.

With Florida ranking 48th in the nation in average teacher salary, many teachers are finding that their career choice is a profession that is not properly recognized for the sacrifice required. As the intrinsic benefits can be very rewarding for education staff and administrators, in the minds of many teachers, the monetary compensation does not equal the effort they have devoted to education. “I think the problem is that people do not want to go into teaching because it is not a profession that is treated like a profession,” OH early childhood education teacher Ms. Heidi Mansa commented. 

As the student population at schools continues to increase, the need for more teachers starts to become a priority. The current student population at OH is just over 2,600, 200 more students than at the end of the 2021-22 school year. The current number of OH students is at its highest point since the 2003-2004 school year, the year before West Boca High opened it doors for the first time. 

The OH student body population increase has led to many overcrowded classrooms, adding more responsibilities and frustration for teachers. According to some teachers, their class sizes for the same courses they taught last year have increased by 10 students or more with class counts approaching 40 students. Teachers find that the higher class counts led to more time having to be spent on “housekeeping” and non-instructional  tasks and less time being spent on the actual teaching of the curriculum. 

With these problems facing teachers and administrators being both a state and nation-wide problem, more and more teachers are choosing to leave the profession. Many fear that this exodus exacerbated by replacing those experienced teachers with less qualified personnel does not bode well for the future of education.