Putting Education Reform To The Test

Why Florida Schools Struggle to Hire Teachers By The Start Of School

Sarah Gonzalez / StateImpact Florida

Students at DeSoto County High School started the year without their permanent leadership, Spanish or French teachers. In the meantime, Ronnie Padilla -- typically a math tutor -- is filling in as the substitute. Only he doesn't speak any French or Spanish.

Schools have been open for a couple of weeks across much of Florida, but not all of the students know who their teachers are yet.

There’s typically a lot of teacher turnover during the summer break, and schools can’t always get vacant teaching positions filled by the time school starts.

At DeSoto County High School in Southern Florida, Ronnie Padilla, a math tutor, is filling in as the French teacher. There’s only one problem: He doesn’t speak any French. Across from his classroom, Alma Cendejas — the school’s front desk receptionist — is filling in as the Spanish teacher until the school can find one.

Principals across Florida say the summer break just isn’t enough time to fill every open teaching position. Some numbers bear that out.

  • In Broward County, 119 teachers weren’t hired by the first day of school.
  • In Hillsborough County, about 150 teaching slots were vacant.
  • Miami-Dade schools started about 100 teachers short.
  • Orange County schools started with 36 vacancies
  • In Duval County, 33 teachers weren’t hired on time.

School officials say that’s not unusual for large school districts with tens of thousands of teachers — Miami-Dade has 22,000.

Still, the vacancies mean thousands of students are starting the school year without permanent teachers. In a school year that is only 180-days long and filled with high-stakes tests, these students are getting a late start.

Doug Peden, executive director of the American Association for Employment in Education, says it’s an age-old problem, and one not limited to Florida.

“In every state, school districts — they hire late,” Peden says. “And we know those classes can stay empty for a long time.”

Sarah Gonzalez / StateImpact Florida

Shannon Fusco is the principal of DeSoto County High School, one of the Florida schools struggling to replace teachers who resigned over the summer break.

At DeSoto High, principal Shannon Fusco had to re-fill 35 teacher positions this summer. That’s half of her teaching staff. It took Fusco all summer to fill the vacancies, but she still came up three positions short.

“For some reason foreign language has been an exceptionally difficult area for us to hire,” she says.

Students at the small-town school, such as sophomore Eve Pence, have been patient about the situation. “Last year, I had four different Spanish teachers in one year because they all left,” Pence says. “And I still learned Spanish.”

But Pence says she would prefer to have one permanent teacher with a consistent style.

Principal Fusco acknowledges its a difficult situation for everyone.

“We don’t like putting students in those positions at all,” Fusco says. “But when we’re unable to find someone with the certification, or even the ability, we do the best that we can and we all pitch in.”

Principals can decide to not offer classes if they can’t find the right teachers.

Fusco cut the Advanced Spanish program, which was set to begin this year. But she says her goal is to expand the academic course offerings at her school. “I didn’t want to go backwards,” she says.

Teachers Resign At The End Of The Summer

One reason some schools find themselves in this bind is because teachers sometimes wait until the very end of summer to notify schools they won’t be coming back.

That’s partly due to a misconception. Some teachers think they won’t get their health insurance over the summer if they quit in June, even though they do. 

Carol Kindt is senior executive director for Human Resources in Orange County schools. She says not all teachers understood their benefits run through the summer.

To address the problem, the district changed its contract to reflect that the end date for employment was Sept. 1, rather than the last day of school.

“So there should be no confusion as to whether they’re employed or not employed,” Kindt says.

The district with more than 12,000 teachers started the school year with 36 teacher vacancies –24 resigned late.

In Broward County — the nation’s sixth largest school district — more than 500 teachers resigned just two weeks before the start of the school year.

“It’s very difficult for any district to meet that challenge,” says Gracie Diaz, who is in charge of hiring teachers in Broward. “I think we all want to have every teacher by the first day of school.”

Diaz says lots of people apply —- just not in the fields they’re looking for. The district held a last-minute teacher job fair, hoping to fill all the vacancies. Some 800 candidates showed up, but only seven of those candidates taught math or science.

“Mathematics, science, speech and language pathology, some of the special ed areas, those are where we’re seeing the need,” Diaz says. “Especially science this year.”

‘You Learn It’

At DeSoto High last year, students went without a teacher certified in physics or chemistry for three months. Substitute teacher Sue Knight filled in for those classes. As a sub, Knight says you just “wing it.”

Sarah Gonzalez / StateImpact Florida

Sue Knight is a substitute teacher at DeSoto High. Last year, she filled in as a science teacher for three months. This year, she's teaching Spanish until the principal can find a permanent teacher. She doesn't speak any Spanish, though.

“If it’s a subject that you don’t know, then you take the book home every night and you do homework,” Knight says. “And you learn it.”

The entire science department helped out by creating lesson plans for Knight. The school principal even brought in a retired physics teacher to help out in the classroom.

Florida schools are expected to have permanent staff in place for all core subject classes by early October, when the Florida Department of Education checks to see if schools have met class-size requirements.

But when schools have a hard time attracting teachers, there’s little the FLDOE can say or do.

Defending Teachers

Jeremy Glazer is a former teacher in Miami and Philadelphia. He says he doesn’t defend teachers who wait until the final days of the summer break to notify schools they won’t be returning – because he believes it has a negative effect on students.

But he says volatile staffing situations cut both ways: Teachers often don’t know what their role will be at a school — or if they’ll even have a role — until just before classes begin.

“At the last minute, you can be told you’re not coming back,” Glazer says. “Or that you’re teaching something that is completely different. And the message you get is that you’re expendable.”

Not only do many teachers not get to choose which subjects they’re teaching, they also don’t get much time to prepare if they find out weeks before the start of the school year.

StateImpact Florida recently interviewed a first year teacher who had just over a week to prepare his curriculum for the year.

“And that’s not good for anybody,” Glazer says. “It’s not good for morale, it’s not good for the teacher, it’s not good for the students, it’s just not a smart way to do things.”

Editor’s note: Broward County schools updated their numbers on teacher vacancies. An earlier version of this story published an out-of-date number. 

Our story on Florida schools starting the year with hundreds of teacher vacancies is helping one high school fill teaching positions that have been empty for weeks.








  • Ann mroz

    My husband is an experienced teacher in biology and the sciences on the college level and last year got his teacher ‘s certificate for biology. He has applied to Broward County and Palm Beach County and has not gotten interviewed for any of these positions. . What gives. He never got a notice about a job fair either

  • AshL

    I am a NJ and FL certified Spanish Teacher. I had been applying since i moved to Fl 9 months ago. During summer time I had applied for more than 10 Spanish positions in Orange County, not even one interview.

    • That’s my problem, i want to move down there, but I’ve put in numerous applications with NO responses. Florida must be content working from behind.

  • Annema1

    I guess companies have forgotten that they get out of their employees what they put in to them. If you treat people poorly they often will feel no obligation to give the company more than two weeks notice. If you are told that you will be teaching all honors chemistry and prepare for that all summer and then come in to find out that you are teacher all earth science (which has no class size cap) what loyalty to the institution has been instilled. You get what you give.

  • diego

    I am a spanish teacher with a master. I used to evaluated Texas Oral Proeficiency Test and I know that the mostrar of spanish teacher with vertifications By their states in this country do not speak spanish and neither know the culture of the language. But the principals and the politics with the mob of certification do not want to improve the education in this country on this areas because the foreign language like spanish does not have ante value and the system do not like to give opportunities to the people who really are able to teach spanish.

  • Treat teachers a bit better and there wouldn’t be so much overturn.

  • miguel

    I applied too to the districts. Nothing. Not until I directly contacted the schools, then I got interviews and a job offer.

  • #ruralunfundedproblems

    It wouldn’t be so hard replacing teachers in Desoto, if the administration didn’t hassle the good ones, and lay everything (ALL THE RESPONSIBILITY) on the new ones from day one. First of all, I knew several good teachers to have resigned or be elbowed out simply because the administration was Stasi-like. Secondly, every new, young, promising teacher which comes in is absolutely overloaded and sink/swim from day one. How is a district like Desoto going to attract good teachers, when those are the ones with experience who know what teaching at Desoto will be like…

  • Mr. Latino

    Me and my wife moved to Orlando over the summer and before we moved she had apply for a teacher certificate in Florida and she received a certificate of eligibility the state told her that as soon as she gets a job then a standard certificate will be issue. She apply to over 100 teaching position to teach Spanish or ESOL. She was call for about two or three job interviews and was treated like she was there just to fill in the number of interview they need to comply because it looks like they already had a friend or someone waiting for the position. Normally they end up hirering a teacher that barely speak Spanish (broken Spanish) they rather hire a teacher who went to Spain to learn Spanish vrs a native Spanish speaker. Wife is certified with years of experience teaching Spanish and English as a second language. She still applying all over. We don’t understand what is goin on with this system. You applied online and you don’t know if there is equal enployment opportunities. At my dauther’s middle school about 98% of the teacher are white and maybe one or two are Hispanic when about 35% of the student are Latino descendent.

  • Will

    One problem I have noticed is schools don’t want to use a long term sub because then they will lose a good substitute teacher. I have a Masters Degree in Education and have been subbing for six years, and applied to be a long term sub, yet the sub coordinators informed me that because I am such a good sub, they don’t want to take me out of the rotation if I become a permanent sub.

  • angel santiago

    My wife is a K-6 certified teacher and holds two bachelor degrees and worked in PR for 18 years, we moved from Puerto Rico to Orlando and she applied for dozens of vacancies and never got a chance! They prefer to hire a broken Spanish speaking teacher instead of a native speaker however it doesn’t work the same way when the teacher handle’s a rough English-speaking accent!

  • anna2556

    I googled this article because I’m a teacher looking for a job in Florida and find it frustrating to do so. Their PATS system, which is supposed to list all the job openings, has perhaps 8 listings, almost all of which are for non-teaching jobs. It’s especially frustrating since I’m trying to come in from Georgia, where we have only until June 1st to either give them our resignation letter or resign. So while I’d love to work in Florida, I don’t want the interruption of my insurance (nor do I want to leave my school in a lurch) by trying to leave later than the deadline. Georgia schools, by comparison, are madly posting and several subject areas are already showing a couple hundred open positions.

  • Oni Mtz

    Districts in Florida are not short of teachers. They use the excuse of teachers’ shortage because they do not want to invest money in education. I was teaching at Miami Dade County and 6 teachers including myself were terminated at the end of the school year leaving the children with substitute teachers or just dividing the classes in small groups and placing the children in different classrooms. It also occurred in other schools around the county.

  • MarquinhoGaucho

    Could it be that Florida has no union protections? Wisconsin is going to the same thing everyone is going to Minnesota, Illinois and Ohio

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