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The flight of teachers

Brianna Horland, Editor-in-Chief & Entertainment Editor

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Teachers. They can often make you crazy. They can also challenge you to be a better “you.” A great teacher not only educates, but positively impacts a student’s life, often for many years to come. But if the job is so important, why are so many teachers leaving schools – and the profession – and what kind of impact does this have on students? More importantly, what can we all do about it? In the word of one teacher: VOTE.

Election fatigue has settled upon many of us like a heavy blanket, and some feel so disgusted with the recent election that they wish to retreat into an apathetic slumber, swearing off voting for life. But your vote has a direct impact on the education you receive, especially when the state legislature controls the purse strings and issues the mandates.

Clevenger, Brown, Singer, and Hanson. These are but a few of the familiar names not at South this year. Many teachers often become so woven into the fabric of a school that it may be hard to imagine a specific program or activity without them: DECA without Mr. Holt? Drama without Mr. Zembuch? SGA without Mrs. Collins? Impossible, you say! Teachers leave a job for many reasons. Oftentimes it is personal: a new baby, a move, or even retirement. But increasingly, it is the demands of the job, a lack of respect and the low pay which are driving educators away from a profession that they used to – and often still- love.

English teacher Debbie Vogt has seen many changes during her 37 years of teaching, 35 of those spent at South. What have been some of the biggest changes? “ School grades, pay for performance, technology and testing. Testing has had the biggest impact.” said Vogt. Lawmakers have increased student testing in an attempt to increase accountability, with teachers now being evaluated on a student’s performance on standardized tests. This merit pay program began with the 2014-15 school year and many teachers feel as though it unfairly penalizes them for circumstances beyond their control, as well stifling a teacher’s creativity and autonomy.

Technology has posed challenges that veteran teachers like Vogt acknowledge changes the way students learn, and the way they are taught. “Kids used to read for fun, that was their entertainment. Now we have to change the approach because many of them are not automatically readers, “ said Vogt. “ Teachers have to be more entertaining as they adapt to the decreased attention span.”

Did you recently take the ACT test early one Saturday morning, thinking you must still be asleep because that looked like your teacher taking the test in the seat to you? You were not imagining it, and surely your teacher thought it was the last place they would find themselves years after their own high school graduation.

The Florida legislature’s Best and Brightest Teacher Scholarship program gives teachers who receive a highly effective rating on their annual evaluation, and scored above the 80th percentile on their high school ACT or SAT test, a one time $10,000 bonus. Lawmakers felt this would attract the best teachers to the state, but many teachers feel it is unfair to tie a bonus to their performance on a high school test, especially if they had been effectively teaching for years. Others decided to bite the bullet and retake the test, as the bonus would offset their low wages.

Teachers have been fighting for a pay raise for years and this past summer the district essentially pulled a bait and switch with raises.  “The school board took away the $2600 that teachers had been given to teach an extra class, but are still demanding that we teach the class,” explained Social Studies teacher, Amy Holder. The correlation between voting for candidates who support education and student achievement is apparent. Parents may not pay attention to their school board candidates, but these are the people who vote on teacher pay, money allocation, special programs for kids, busing, school calendars and who will serve as superintendent.

“Being given an extra class and having the classes I teach removed from the class size amendment qualification means that my class load – which has historically been about 150 students –  is now 180 students and I have one less planning period,” said Holder.

With more students, more demands, less time to actually get work done and low wages, teachers in some Broward County schools staged a two-week protest by “working to their contract,” meaning they refused to stay after school, did not take work home and did only what was required of them during the school day.

So how does this all affect students? If a teacher leaves as soon as the bell rings, they are not available for help after school, or perhaps they will not be able to sponsor your club or sport. If a teacher has too many students during a day, they have less time to answer parent emails, grade papers and provide proper feedback to their students.

When environmental science teacher Jessica Brown decided to leave the magnet program for another opportunity this year, the effects of losing a teacher integral to the program was felt for several weeks. “The school year started out a little crazy, but once they hired a steady teacher it got better, “ said Hailey Kreis, sophomore.

Brown moved to Western High School, which is closer to her home, but the bigger draw was the block scheduling. “I really love South” said Brown. “I took the job at Western mainly for the block schedule.  At the end of last school year I was so stressed and I was sleep deprived.  So I knew I needed to do something different for this school year.”

The move to block scheduling by many schools is helping to alleviate the stress of some teachers (not all are in favor), but may pose concerns for students who are unsure of the change. South recently voted to implement block scheduling for the 2016-2017 school year and Brown feels it will have a positive impact. “ Teaching on the block allows me time to plan, grade, contact parents, and focus on what needs to be done. It slows everything down ….for teachers, as well as students,” she said.

Most teachers get into teaching because they love to teach kids and believe that an educated community is one that thrives; good schools drive up property values and bring jobs to an area, happy teachers are better prepared to educate kids – it is a continuous circle. You may complain about dragging yourself to your 6th hour class, but without a good education, you will struggle to be successful in life.

That is why with fewer people entering the profession out of college, and more teachers leaving – over 1000 just in Broward County last year – it more important than ever to vote for the right people to allocate funding to our schools and show respect to the professionals tasked with helping students to succeed.

After 24 years of teaching, and despite the challenges, Holder still greets students with a smile each day. “I hope that I can, by example, teach them about diligence, character and a solid work ethic. I hope they learn from me the value of learning, not only to pass a test, but simply for the sake of learning. I hope to create knowledgeable citizens who learn how to think for themselves and do good in the world,” she says. And hopefully, they will vote.

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The flight of teachers