Dropping out

Published: Thursday, March 1, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, February 28, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

Conventional wisdom used to be that sunshine and long summer vacations were enough to recruit, and keep, teachers in Florida's classrooms. But those days, if they ever did exist, are gone.

A Department of Education study shows that more than a third of the teachers and school administrators hired in 1999 are no longer on the job. Next year Florida will need 15,878 new teachers, not just because enrollments are growing, but because so many educators are leaving.

Why? Once you get past the obvious reason of compensation (many states pay higher teacher salaries than Florida does) there are several other factors. Poor school administration (bad principals) and unruly student behavior can create a hostile workplace situation. Add to that growing paperwork demands and the absence of opportunities for promotion and advancement.

Not surprisingly, teachers with advanced degrees are most likely to leave in search of better pay, better working conditions and better prospects for advancement.

Florida's existing colleges of education are capable of turning out less than a third of all the new teachers the state needs. The rest must be hired from out of state or recruited from outside the profession. Florida's extremely high teacher turnover rate only further complicates recruitment efforts.

Keeping teachers on the job is a far more complicated problem than simply raising salaries, although that's an obvious first step. The larger problem is that Florida doesn't treat teachers like accomplished professionals. And, increasingly, teachers who take pride in their professionalism are leaving.

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