Hundreds of teachers in Florida are still leaving their district classrooms and we are now in the middle of the first semester.
“All summer I thought I was going back,” said former Pinellas County elementary school teacher Carolina Tave. Tave was recognized as a highly effective teacher in the district for the past three years, but resigned 10 days before classes began that year.
“I heard the conditions I would work in and I didn’t think those conditions would be optimal or safe for me,” she said recently.
Danielle Rapoza’s last day as a K-5 special education teacher in St. Johns County was last Friday.
“I became a mixed model that just wasn’t feasible for any kind of fidelity,” she said.
“I came home defeated, empty, sad and exhausted,” added Rapoza.
Last month, we searched school district records across the state to determine the number of teachers who have stepped down, retired, or taken vacations since the start of the new school year.
We found hundreds.
In Collier County, two dozen teachers have left since school started, up from five for the entire 2019-2020 school year.
In St. Lucie County, 36 teachers dropped out halfway through their first semester, twice as many at that time last year.
In Orange County, 118 teachers are gone, a 25% increase over this time last year. And in Hillsborough County, a district spokesman told us there are 100 more teachers on leave than a year ago.
Tanya Arja, spokeswoman for the “No unusual pattern” district in an email to us.
Arja said the district was not concerned, adding, “We are working with the union to take advantage of requests for face-to-face and distance learning options.”
However, the Florida Teachers Union president is concerned.
“It’s not normal, it’s not normal at all,” said Andrew Spar, president of the Florida Education Association.
There are several reasons a teacher might leave in the middle of the school year. Spar believes the state’s mandate to open campuses during the pandemic will continue to play a big role. Teachers have complained about health and safety conditions, many having to teach students in person and online at the same time, much like Danielle Rapoza did.
Spar believes the departures exacerbate the state’s teacher shortage, but how much remains unclear.
The state teachers’ union usually tracks teacher shortages nationwide, but the pandemic has caused so much change that a union spokesman said they couldn’t have gotten a reliable count this year.
Hillsborough County schools do not report a teacher shortage. In Pinellas County, a district spokesman said it currently has 32 teaching and non-teaching positions. In Palm Beach County, search for “teachers” on the district website and you will find over 850 entries.
Danielle Rapoza and Carolina Tave have moved on. Both now work for the Florida State Virtual School after all hoping the classroom would work but realizing the risks and rewards didn’t add up.
“I really thought we’d get through to showing a good front and being positive, but there is only so much you can do,” said Rapoza.