Florida teacher totals edge up
By Marilyn Bowden
Amid speculation that a shortfall in teaching may be looming, Florida is seeing a slight increase in certifications, and schools of education at local universities report continued interest among students in pursuing teaching careers.
According to the Florida Department of Education, total certifications and re-certifications statewide were up 4.3% in the 2010-'11 school year over the year before. Figures for Miami-Dade were not available.
While overall enrollment in Miami Dade College's school of education declined about 7% this year, said Director Susan Neimand, the number of students entering into early childhood programs increased substantially.
"The reason is that there are mandates from Head Start and the National Association for the Education of Young Children that teachers must have bachelor degrees by 2013," she said, "and assistants must have associate degrees."
Dr. Neimand said Miami Dade College offers an Early Childhood Education degree program spanning birth to grade 3. The norm across the state is to split that into two degrees, one spanning birth to age 4 and another age 3 to grade 3.
"We also include in the degree program a pre-K disabilities endorsement," she said, "so that teachers can identify and begin to remediate disabilities early. If they can catch them early enough, there's a better chance they can remedy the problem or teach the child strategies to cope."
Students who do opt for a degree in education come into it with a more serious commitment to the profession of teaching than some of their predecessors did, Dr. Neimand said. "We're getting feedback from district schools that our students are extremely serious about the work they do with students."
Dr. Neimand said there are predictions that in just two or three years, Florida schools could be facing a critical shortage, with as many as 50% of teachers retiring.
Steven D. Thompson, executive director of marketing and communications at Nova Southeastern Fischler School of Education and a program professor in the Educational Leadership Department, cautioned that the fact that many boomers are timing out or moving towards early retirement is not necessarily the cause of reduced teaching staff in some districts.
"Invariably, faculty and staff get shifted around based on where the student populations are," he said.
"In Miami-Dade, schools in the west are constantly building and hiring, whereas in the east, that's less so. Younger people with young families tend to be in the west, but the way the districts work in this state is that all counties are district-wide school systems.
"So Miami-Dade has a student population roughly comparable to Chicago's, but the overall population of the county is a fraction of Chicagoland's."
Dr. Thompson said Fischler's enrollment has not shown any significant fluctuations in either graduate or undergraduate programs.
"A master's degree is not yet the baseline in Florida as it is in New York," he said, "though we are seeing more and more teachers with advanced degrees. Most of our graduate teacher-education classes are populated by those who have a BA and want additional education."
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