Alyssa Soejima knew she wanted to be a teacher when she was in first grade.
The 21-year-old UF education sciences senior grew up in Florida most of her life, but amid rising statewide teacher vacancies, she’s opted to move to Nashville once she graduates in December.
Factors like the “Don’t Say Gay” bill made teaching in Florida less appealing and hurt the classroom environment, she said.
“They can’t even wear rainbow,” Soejima said. “That’s just so absurd.”
While she does not want to run away from the problems teachers face in Florida’s education system, she said she felt there was not much she could do to fix them. She’ll work as an English as a second language teacher for Teach for America, a nonprofit organization.
About 9,000 teacher vacancies need to be filled statewide for the upcoming school year, according to the Florida Department of Education. In an effort to help fill some vacancies, Florida recently announced military veterans and their spouses could teach without a teacher’s degree.
Alachua County Public Schools dealt with 265 resignations from teachers, counselors and media specialists over the 2021-2022 school year.
While UF’s College of Education has seen a steady increase in annual enrollment, UF’s total elementary education majors dropped from 647 students in 2009 to only 248 in 2021.
Abigail Darius, a 22-year-old former Alachua County Public School reading teacher, taught at Fort Clarke Middle School for the 2021-2022 Spring semester after she graduated last December.
She studied elementary education, but her short stint as a teacher was extremely taxing. She resigned to work toward her master’s degree in entrepreneurship.
“Even if you’re not teaching, you still have to do lesson planning; you’re still grading papers, you’re still contacting parents, you’re going to meetings,” Darius said.
Darius wished teachers would receive more support and respect. She stressed how crucial it is to rally behind teachers, rather than view them as a babysitter for parents’ kids.
New requirements to teach in Florida and COVID-19 have made it difficult to fill statewide teaching positions, ACPS spokesperson Jackie Johnson said.
“There are a lot of controversial laws that have been put in place in the past couple of years related to education,” Johnson said. “So that creates a challenge.”
It is a top priority for ACPS to increase teacher salaries, Johnson said. The school board has been able to increase salaries and receive more funding for education, she said.
Casey Shaha, a 22-year-old UF elementary education graduate, said she will move to California after graduate school because Florida’s salaries remained stagnant.
The average teacher salary in Florida is $51,009, which ranks 48th in the country, according to the National Education Association. The average teacher salary in California is $85,856, the third-highest mark in the nation.
Teachers’ treatment also pushes candidates from the state, Shaha said, and especially Gainesville. She helped teach at Myra Terwilliger Elementary School and Meadowbrook Elementary School while she completed her undergraduate degree.
“It just seems like there’s a lack of attention to how much work teachers put in,” Shaha said.
The second-grade class she helped teach at Myra Terwilliger dealt with suspensions and a suicidal student, she said. The teacher she worked with struggled to witness the issues her students faced, Shaha said.
The teacher has since resigned.
As of Sunday, 83 ACPS teacher jobs and five substitute teacher positions remained posted on ACPS’ website.
Contact Jackson Reyes at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @JacksnReyes.
Jackson Reyes is a third-year sports journalism major. He is the Gator's soccer beat reporter and previously worked as a general assignment reporter on the Metro desk. When he's not reporting, he enjoys collecting records and taking long walks on the beach.