Phillip Ellis: I love my teaching job, but Florida should raise pay and lower barriers for entering the profession

Phillip Ellis graduated from FSU with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry in 2015, and has been teaching chemistry and physics at Zephyrhills High School in Pasco County since then.  Phillip took a studio physics class with Susan Blessing while at FSU.  

I’ve been teaching High School science, specifically chemistry and physics, for the past year. I earned my B.S. in chemistry in 2015 and after graduation decided to take the plunge into education, a path that is undervalued by many STEM majors.

I’d like to make a disclaimer before I start: I love my job. Teaching is single-handedly the most rewarding choice I’ve ever made in my lifetime. While I can’t speak for other science teachers about their work dynamics, mine have been stellar. I’m given a large amount of latitude over how I conduct my class and construct my lessons and consistently receive good feedback from my co-workers as well as the school administration. But similar to anything else, there is room for improvement. Education has low monetary incentives and a high barrier to entry. These two factors must be mitigated for Florida to overcome its science teacher shortage.

Lets start with the elephant in the room, the pay. While I certainly make enough to support my fiancé and myself while she attends graduate school, I do suffer a pay cut relative to college graduates with a similar degree and experience. It’s difficult to get someone in the profession when they have to take a pay cut. I’m not going to pretend that I understand the inner workings of a state/county budget committee. However, if the state of Florida wants to employ more high quality science teachers, getting competitive with the pay of a B.S. level science job seems like a good place to start.

A problem more specific to science teachers who do not have their degree in education is the alternative-certification programs. These are required by the state in order to get your professional teaching certificate. Although I don’t believe that these programs are in need of a repeal; they should be streamlined in order to reduce the amount of paperwork needed to become a science teacher. The first change should be to the FTCE testing requirements for topic tests. I personally find it odd that I have to pay for a certification exam for chemistry despite holding a bachelors degree in the topic. To me this feels as if the state does not value my previous education or my knowledge of the topic area. Either the test should be free to take or not required for degree holders in the subject area.

The second warranted change to the alternative-certification programs would be to reduce the amount of explicit assignments needed to complete the program. Many of the tasks required can be learned on the job and do not require an evaluation from an assessor. For example, tasks concerning lesson plans or parent teacher conferences feel redundant considering the frequency of their occurrence and their natural tendency for feedback from the administration staff.

I strongly believe that these two changes will both lower the barrier to entry and increase the amount of incentives for high quality science teachers, in particular STEM majors, to begin teaching in Florida.

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