Rebuilding the teaching profession in Florida is the K-12 issue that matters most. Will the 2019 session of the Florida Legislature address that?

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The education transition team appointed by Florida’s Governor-elect Ron DeSantis met for the first time this past Thursday and discussed (according to Jeff Solochek of the Tampa Bay Times) choice, accountability, personalization and metrics.

None of that stuff will matter if the state’s schools can’t recruit, develop and retain enough great teachers to educate every child. And Florida is doing a lousy job of that now.

The teacher issue certainly wasn’t featured at Thursday’s meeting. It should have been front and center.

I’ll risk alienating my readers (both of them) by saying this: I want great teachers everywhere, in all educational sectors. I want great teachers in charter schools, Catholic schools and other schools receiving state scholarships. And of course I want more great teachers in our traditional district schools.

From my perch at the postsecondary end of the STEM pipeline, it looks to me like all three sectors – private, charter and traditional district schools – are falling short on making sure every math and science classroom is led by a teacher who is equipped to give each student the best opportunity to fulfill her or his potential.

If every teacher at every charter, private and traditional public school has a deep understanding of her or his subject and the training, personality and physical tools to build a strong educational relationship with each student, then accountability, personalization and metrics will take care of themselves.  That’s why every discussion of educational policy should start by addressing the issue of teacher recruiting and retention instead of backing into the subject of teachers only after all the usual education policy buzzwords have been said by everyone.

What do teachers want? Or…what do our strong students want in order to enter the teaching profession? The American Physical Society’s survey of undergraduates in chemistry, computer science, math and physics and early career teachers in those fields provides a start in answering those questions. It was a national survey and not Florida-specific, but it’s likely the most important issues in our state can still be glimpsed in the results.

According to the survey, the four things that early career teachers of chemistry, computer science, math and physics like least about teaching are hostile or unresponsive administrators, excessive non-teaching obligations, the long hours and the low salaries. Next on the same list are state mandated testing, lack of respect for the teaching profession and disruptive and unruly students.

Among undergraduates who had at least a slight interest in teaching, the survey found that the most effective way to sway them to enter the profession is higher salaries.

None of this should surprise anyone. You’d almost certainly get the same answers by listening to your local teachers – but if you took the time to listen to them you’d learn much more, too.

Let’s be clear about one thing: There are some outstanding individuals in the K-12 teaching profession, despite all the disincentives to enter the profession in the first place and to stay once there. These outstanding educators stay because they know they are making a difference.  We need more individuals just like them to become teachers and stay.  Removing some of those disincentives would help.

I hope the 2019 session of the Florida Legislature is The Teacher Session. Rebuilding the teaching profession in Florida is the K-12 issue that matters most.

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