Hundreds of Florida teachers are still leaving their district's classrooms and we’re just halfway into the first semester.
“All summer long, I thought I was going back,” said former Pinellas County elementary school teacher, Carolina Tave. For the past three years, Tave was deemed a highly effective teacher in the district but she resigned 10 days before classes were set to begin this year.
“I started hearing the conditions under which I would work and I didn’t think those conditions were optimal or safe for me,” she said recently.
Danielle Rapoza’s last day as a special education K-5 teacher in St. Johns County was last Friday.
“I became this blended model that just wasn’t feasible for any type of fidelity,” she said.
“I’ve been coming home defeated, deflated, sad and exhausted,” Rapoza added.
For the past month, we’ve combed through school district records around the state seeking the number of teachers who have resigned, retired or took a leave of absence since the start of the new school year.
We found hundreds.
In Collier County, two dozen teachers have left since the start of school, versus five during the entire 2019-2020 school year.
In St. Lucie County, 36 teachers have dropped out halfway into the first semester, double the number this time last year.
In Orange County, 118 teachers are gone, a 25% increase from this time last year. And in Hillsborough County, a district spokesperson told us they now have 100 more teachers on leave right now versus a year ago.
“Not an unusual pattern” state district spokesperson Tanya Arja in an email to us.
Arja stated the district was not concerned, adding “we are working with the union to leverage requests for face-to-face and remote teaching options."
But the President of Florida’s teachers union is concerned.
“It is not normal, it is not normal at all,” said Florida Education Association President Andrew Spar.
There are various reasons why a teacher can leave in the middle of the school year. Spar believes the state’s mandate to open campuses amid the pandemic continues to play a big role. Teachers have complained about health and safety conditions, many are having to teach students in-person and online at the same time ,much like what drove Danielle Rapoza out.
Spar believes the departures are exasperating the state’s teacher shortage but how much remains unclear.
The state teacher’s union typically tracks teacher shortage numbers statewide, but the pandemic has caused so many things to change, a union spokesperson said they have not been able to get a reliable count this year.
Hillsborough County schools is not reporting a shortage of teachers. In Pinellas County, a district spokesperson said they have a total of 32 openings for both instructional and non-instructional staff at this time, and in Palm Beach County, search "teacher" on the district’s website and you’ll find more than 850 listings. According to a Palm Beach County school district spokesperson, the listings do not reflect a teacher shortage since the district is currently under a hiring freeze.
Danielle Rapoza and Carolina Tave have moved on. Both now work for the state-run Florida Virtual School after they each hoped to make the classroom work but realized the risks versus rewards just weren’t adding up.
“I really did think that putting on a good front and being positive would get us through, but you can only do so much,” said Rapoza.