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Local schools say teacher shortage effects are still being felt

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Winter Springs High School Principal Peter Gaffney said he remembers when he would get anywhere from 15 to 25 applicants for a teaching position, now he’s lucky to get three or five. 

Although Winter Springs High School has filled all of its teaching positions this year, other schools in Seminole County were not as lucky.

“It all starts in the classroom and it all starts with the teacher,” Gaffney said. “Everything else comes after that and having a highly qualified teacher, someone that’s gonna come in and love kids and want to make an impact on kids and their growth is what it’s all about.”

As of press time, there were 30 open teaching positions  listed on the Seminole County Public Schools website. In some cases, a teacher shortage affects class sizes and causes teachers to pick up extra responsibilities.

Gaffney said because high school is so subject-specific, it is hard to find qualified teachers in subjects such as biology, calculus and physics. 

He said that a shortage can cause teachers to teach multiple subjects each day, which makes planning a challenge. Schools are now looking for teachers with more qualifications that can teach more subjects, Gaffney said.

Hamlet Tavarez teaches Algebra 1 and Algebra 2 at WSHS. Tavarez previously worked at Chain of Lakes Middle School in Orlando and said that the commute from his home in Sanford caused him to apply for a position in Seminole County.

“I’ve never had an issue finding a job when it comes to mathematics because mathematics is an area that is in high demand,” Tavarez said.

Not only is the teacher shortage an issue for many schools, but finding substitute teachers is also a problem. Tavarez said that at other schools he’s worked for, the substitute shortage has made it hard to find coverage for classes. Gaffney said that WSHS has also struggled to bring in substitute teachers.

As it has become increasingly difficult to fill teaching positions, Gaffney said that WSHS has had to find different ways to reach applicants. One way they have adapted is by sharing open job positions on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

A social media post by WSHS aims to attract applicants for an open teaching position. Photo courtesy of WSHS.

Oviedo High School Principal Trent Daniel has also seen the pool of teacher applicants decrease each year. Daniel said that usually within the first two weeks of school, positions are filled, but not this year. 

“The job itself is demanding, I think the pay is also an issue for college graduates,” Daniel said. “Teachers start anywhere in Florida $45,000 to $55,000 depending on what district you’re in and then in today’s market with the (high cost of) housing, they’re struggling to live.”

As a recruiter for Seminole County, Daniel said that there are not as many undergraduates going into education. She said that there has been a drastic decrease in graduating teachers, especially among elementary and middle school teachers. 

According to the University of Central Florida’s admissions data, the number of applications to the education program jumped by 177 from 2018 to 2022, from 1,823 to nearly 2,000. The number of enrolled students in UCF’s education programs dropped by almost 200 during the same time range, from 656 to 468. 

Seminole State College recently approved two new education bachelor’s degrees in Elementary Education K-6 and Exceptional Student Education K-12. Daniel said this gives students the chance to receive a four-year teaching degree at a lesser cost.

Seminole State College Education Program Coordinator Ashley Navarro said they created the new education degrees because of community needs for teachers. She said the college met with administrators from Seminole County Public Schools in a joint effort to help with the teacher shortage.  

Navarro said that a survey indicated that 90% of 2-year education students at Seminole State College were interested in pursuing a 4-year degree in education. The education bachelors became available this semester with over 35 students enrolling, Navarro said. 

Students in the programs will receive hands-on experiences such as over 100 hours of field experience and internship opportunities within the local school district.

Seminole County Public Schools Human Resources Department has worked closely with universities’ education programs to share information about SCPS and available teaching opportunities. Within recent years, SCPS has hosted career fairs more frequently to recruit teaching staff. 

Lawton Elementary School Principal Robert Navarro said that over the last five years, education has put a lot of pressure on teachers and it has become more difficult to keep teachers in their current positions. 

Navarro said faculty and staff work very hard for the amount of pay that they receive and that he believes this could be one of the reasons for a smaller pool of applicants in recent years. 

“I think that education in general has put a lot of demands on teachers and it has become a little bit more of a challenge to keep them because we’re asking more of them but they aren’t necessarily being paid more for what is being asked of them,” Navarro said.

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