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Union president: workload and culture wars lead to more teacher vacancies |Opinion

I recently heard an impassioned veteran educator explain that she was “fighting to stay a teacher.”

As a classroom teacher for 16 years, I will tell you that being a teacher is worth the fight. Teaching can be an extremely exciting, rewarding, and fun career. The joy that comes from helping students become the best versions of themselves is truly priceless. Unfortunately, too many teachers are losing their battles to fight to stay in the profession. Which begs the question what is causing educators to leave the field of education?

While many industries are struggling with staffing, the added workload caused by vacancies to teachers, who have a never ending and always growing list of expectations, is unmanageable. On August 31st, Brevard Public Schools was advertising 185 positions covered under the teachers’ contract. To be clear, this is not the result of poor recruitment. BPS does a good job of hiring teachers. But its track record on retention is another story.

It’s sometimes hard to grasp the magnitude of vacancies. To simplify, 185 vacancies mean thousands of students are not receiving the services they should be. It means that already overworked teachers are picking up the work for the unfilled positions. It means that the voter-approved class-size amendment is ignored, and students get less individualized attention. It means that a teacher has more parents to contact, papers to grade, and meetings to attend. These vacancies cause exceptional education teachers’ caseloads to become unwieldy.

Not only do these teachers have more Individual Education Plans to write, data to collect, and less planning time due to meetings, our students with disabilities are not getting the quality education they deserve. Knowing students are being shortchanged is disheartening and causing some to leave. Instructional vacancies lead to more instructional vacancies.

While overall, Brevard County residents are extremely supportive of our schools, our schools have become pawns in the culture wars. This has led to an underlying but pervasive view that teachers themselves are under attack. While our teachers are focused on teaching students state standards, the fear of using the wrong pronoun, a nickname, making a student feel “uncomfortable” while teaching history, or letting a student accidentally read a book that someone finds objectionable is always present.

On top of that, the accusations against teachers from all sides of the political spectrum are always lingering. Our school board meetings feel more like a barroom brawl at open mic night than a serious event that focuses on education. The climate of our schools is polluted by this.

Let’s face it, job opportunities abound in Brevard County. Many of these employers are eager to hire teachers who are reliable, hardworking, and have a wide range of skills. And, while average Florida teacher pay still ranks 48th in the nation, many employers are willing to pay more. Additionally, these jobs provide much more balance, flexibility, and work from home opportunities which are attractive to job seekers.

Meanwhile, Brevard Public Schools has fought tooth and nail against the opportunities it has for teachers to be flexible. Additionally, nearly every proposal at the bargaining table they made this year sought to take away much needed time that teachers use to plan lessons, grade papers, and contact parents. Many teachers are choosing less stressful and more lucrative job opportunities.

Our public-school teachers in Brevard work tirelessly to provide our children with the best education possible. Most would say they love teaching. Most would say they’re fighting to stay in the profession. However, the never-ending expectations, culture wars, and employment opportunities elsewhere are causing many of them to throw in the towel.

Anthony S. Colucci is president of the Brevard Federation of Teachers


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