By Christina Ottersbach
At the end of May 2022, the average teacher profile was that of pure exhaustion. Two months later, on Wednesday, August 3rd, teachers from all around the county gathered for their annual back to school event for the first time since 2019. Completely refreshed and revamped, teachers raided Crosspoint Church decked out in their best school spirit gear. Teachers were assigned to bring their best school spirit and they did not disappoint. Some schools brought in cheerleaders, some brought in mascots, some brought in noisemakers and signs, while some, like Central High School, went to the extreme by bringing in a marching band.
The halls were filled with teachers greeting their colleagues with hugs and shopping around for free giveaways from the numerous sponsors that completely paid for the event. Food trucks lined the perimeter of the church, providing a variety of foods to starving participants. The United Way and their Stuff the Bus campaign provided backpacks to the teachers who then were allowed to stuff their backpacks with a variety of teaching supplies for their classroom.
As teachers made their way to their seats, the stage was filled with representatives from each of the schools who were dancing and doing the limbo. After personally witnessing the mindset of educators just two months prior and comparing to how they presented themselves at the rally, you would have thought it was a completely different group of people.
“It Starts with Us”
Superintendent John Stratton welcomed teachers by sharing his personal experiences that helped lead him down the path to become an educator. Even though his mother was a teacher, Stratton never saw himself becoming an educator. He put himself through college working for the city of St. Petersburg running a community center that ran before and after school programs, as well as athletic programs and special events. While he was working with kids, it was then when he discovered his passion and what ultimately directed him on the path to education.
Stratton proudly graduated from the University of South Florida as a teacher, working primarily with severely emotionally disturbed (SED) children, as it once was called. Despite the everyday challenges he faced, the greatest aspect of the job was the people with whom he worked with. Stratton said, “Teaching is more than the relationships we develop with students, but the relationships we develop with each other.”
Stratton also reflected on a few special moments with students back when he played the role as a special education teacher and later as an administrator for elementary, middle, and high school. As he fondly shared the special memories of the various stages of childhood, one specific stand out memory was one about an 8th grade boy who was moved by a concert held at Challenger K-8. After the concert, the boy came up to Stratton weeping then held him in a long embrace. Stratton said, “It’s moments like that… of trust… of feeling safe… of feeling valued… that brought me into this profession.”
Stratton then introduced teachers who have played various roles in his life; as one of his students, as a colleague, or as a mentor. Stratton also took time to recognize teachers who have devoted much of their life to teaching, as well as recognizing those who are brand new. Stratton emphasized that teachers with five years of experience or less are at the greatest risk of leaving the profession – urging teachers with more experience to help guide them through the rough waters.
When Stratton asked teachers of different experience groupings to stand up and represent themselves, only a small handful of teachers represented those with less than five years of experience. At this rate, there will not be nearly enough to replace all the veteran teachers when they choose to retire. The teaching shortage will continue to worsen if there are not enough teachers to replenish the ones we have lost.
Other speakers shared their feelings about the teaching profession, such as School Board Member Susan Duval. “Teachers can make magic happen every day. It’s all about connecting with kids.” Duval continued to emphasize how much students need teachers, now more than ever, especially since some lack the support at home. Duval added, “They need someone to believe in them.”
“What’s Your Why?”
The guest speaker of the event was Adam Dovico, who is a Nationally Board-Certified educator living in North Carolina. Over the course of his career, he has served as a teacher, curriculum coach, principal, college professor, and presenter. He has authored numerous articles and has written three books: Inside the Trenches, The Limitless School, and When Kids Lead.
Dovico wanted to dig deep to answer the question, “What’s your why?” During a time when teachers are constantly wondering if they should continue to teach, they were encouraged to focus on why they chose this profession to begin with. Dovico explains his “why” was to be “a groundbreaker, a shifter, someone that breaks the script, that does things that completely goes against the norm so that a child’s school experience is nothing like they have ever experienced before.” With growing restraints and mounting pressure to perform and tasks to complete, achieving the role of “groundbreaker” seems more and more like a dream than a goal nowadays.
The power and energy that was exuberated at the teacher rally is to be commended and admired. It was something that could have easily propelled some prospective educators to jump on board in a heartbeat – something that should be seriously considered. Such passion is lacking among those who view education as a dying career, resulting in low employment numbers.
Over the summer, Hernando County managed to fill approximately 20 teacher vacancies out of 118. Although the school district blew the teacher rally out of the water, will it be enough to carry them through the academic year as they prepare to start school with the same problematic issues of last year? Shortages plaque all components of the education system, including but not limited to teachers, administration, bus drivers, and substitutes.
Teachers will never, ever forget “why” they chose education. They are simply asking for support to help make their “why” possible.