School districts in Northwest Florida and across the state are struggling to find certified teachers in several crucial subject areas.
The State Board of Education approved a report last week that details a shortage of certified educators in public schools, mainly in math, science and English. The shortage isn’t exclusive to Florida; it has been affecting the entire country for years.
“I applaud the State Board of Education recognizing a teacher shortage exists,” Santa Rosa County Superintendent of Schools Tim Wyrosdick said. “I would champion the board to begin to ask why.”
The annual report points to issues such as a scarcity of certified teachers in subject areas such as general science, physics and chemistry when compared to fields such as elementary education.
The report also details aspects such as teacher-education programs turning out few science and math teachers.
Wyrosdick said Santa Rosa County is experiencing a teacher shortage in all areas.
“I think a short discussion with current teachers and those who have left this profession would be an eye-opening experience,” Wyrosdick said. “The board would see the effect of some of their burdensome and unnecessary rules.”
Okaloosa County is also feeling the impact. According to Assistant Superintendent Steve Horton, the district has hired 50 new teachers this year in secondary math, English and science.
Of those hired, 13 were hired on a temporary certificate, which means that they have bachelor’s degrees at a minimum but still might have to meet certain assessment and professional development requirements to be fully credentialed.
“Having the military in our county certainly helps enrich the pool of potential teachers, whether it’s retirees or spouses of active-duty military,” Horton said. “Overwhelmingly, we’ve found that they make excellent teachers, and we are fortunate to have them.”
Walton County isn’t as greatly affected as its neighbors. The School District started off this school year with all but five teacher positions filled.
“We’re finding it more difficult to find those teachers, but we haven’t necessarily experienced a shortage to where we need to have substitutes in those areas,” Superintendent of Schools Russell Hughes said. “But we feel the pain because when we have a position, we have very few applicants.”
According to the state board report, the shortages represent certification areas in which “substantial proportions of teachers who are not certified in the appropriate field are being hired to teach such courses.”
Colleges also are not producing enough teacher education graduates to meet the needs of Florida's growing K-12 population.
The number of teacher candidates from the University of West Florida has diminished significantly, Wyrosdick said. In 2008, Santa Rosa County schools had 57 teachers requesting student teaching experience. There are 13 this year.
The report recommends designation of “critical teacher shortage areas” for the 2019-20 school year. State law requires the shortage areas to be identified annually.
General science is the subject with the largest shortage, followed by English; mathematics; English for speakers of other languages; a physical science category that includes chemistry and physics; reading; technical education; and a broad category of exceptional student education.