It’s not news that Florida has a shortage of available teachers. What is disturbing, however, is the size of the problem: Current estimates show that the state will have 30,000 fewer teachers than it needs for the next school year. A surge of students, a swell in teacher retirements, and a constitutional amendment to reduce class sizes have combined to create an educational "perfect storm" that threatens to overwhelm the state.
Now, working with a state grant, Florida State University’s College of Education is seeking to calm that storm in one area of particular concern: secondary education.
"Our focus is on showing college students who haven’t yet settled on a specific career path that teaching is a viable option," said Pamela S. Carroll, chairwoman of the department of middle and secondary education within the college.
"There’s a huge need for teachers in all areas, but the shortage of middle and high school teachers is particularly acute," she added.
Working with $216,000 in "Succeed Florida" grant money provided by the Florida Department of Education, Carroll said that her FSU department is pursuing a three-pronged approach to recruit more middle and high school teachers into the profession:
- Introducing college students who aren’t yet sure of their career plans to the teaching opportunities available in education.
- Offering professional development via weekly seminars to college freshmen, sophomores and juniors who have expressed an interest in teaching. In the seminars, which begin this semester, veteran teachers will discuss issues such as what a typical day in the classroom is like. In addition, students will have opportunities to get involved in local, state and national professional organizations—and will receive one semester hour of college credit.
- Developing new programs to make it easier for college students to receive teacher certification. For example, Carroll says, one program will help students who are interested in teaching at the middle school level to become certified to teach social sciences while, at the same time, also authorizing them to teach reading and to teach children for whom English isn’t their first language.
"Within secondary education, some key subject areas are in dire need of additional teachers," said Rodney Reeves, who, as project director of the "Succeed Florida" grant for the department of middle and secondary education, has spearheaded several of the current teacher-recruitment initiatives. "Therefore, our strongest focus will be on getting college students interested in teaching math, science, the social sciences, English and reading."
Marcy Driscoll, the dean of FSU’s College of Education, said that part of the challenge of getting college students interested in teaching involves showing them that the rewards go well beyond the bottom line.
"A lot of attention is paid to salary," she said. "For example, when a student who has expertise in the sciences or in mathematics looks at the salary that he or she might earn upon graduating from FSU, that salary often looks better going into industry as opposed to becoming a teacher. So we have to focus on the other kinds of rewards that teaching offers. For example, if you truly care about giving back to the community; if you see that it’s important to interact with people to work on social issues; if you want to have a career that allows you to strike a good balance between work and family obligations, then teaching might be an attractive option for you."
Carroll said that her department (www.fsu.edu/~mse/) has been collaborating with officials at Tallahassee Community College and at North Florida Community College in Madison, Fla., to encourage students who are finishing up at both of those schools to attend FSU and pursue careers in education. FSU also will make some of its coursework in middle and secondary education available at those schools.
"The ‘Succeed Florida’ grant is helping us to set some of these innovative teacher-recruitment ideas into motion," Carroll said. "From there, we’re committed to the long-term challenge of helping Florida produce enough new teachers to adequately educate all of its children."