JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – There are an estimated 3.2 million public school teachers nationwide, but that number is likely shrinking.
Teachers are quitting their jobs at the highest rate on record, according to new data from the U.S. Labor Department. This comes after several high-profile campaigns by teachers last year to remedy what they say is low pay and poor working conditions.
News4Jax looked into data on teacher turnover in Northeast Florida.
In St. Johns County, 269 of about the district's 3,200 teachers left during the last school year. Of those, 26 were retirements, 18 went to new professions and 180 resigned for personal reasons, which could mean leaving education or taking an education job elsewhere.
St. Johns is a fast-growing district that needs more teachers each year. Last year, it hired 405 new teachers and holds recruitment events nearly every month across the Southeast.
Duval County has nearly 100 vacancies out of 8,284 teaching positions. The district says it does year-round recruitment, including a program to help non-traditional candidates get their teaching certificate, a new early college program for high school students interested in a teaching career.
Clay County, which is a much smaller district, lost 291 of its teachers during the last school year. It also assists candidates who want to become certified teachers.
Nassau County lost 118 teachers last year and 41 so far this year. It participates in job fairs at colleges and universities across the United States as well as posting openings on its website.
"Retention of quality educators is quite challenging, largely because of the level of pay," Nassau County told News4Jax.
The average Florida teacher earned about $47,000 in 2017. Starting pay is significantly lower.
Former Duval County school teacher Monica Ibera said she’s happier now that she's a preschool teacher.
"I don’t like to admit it, but it’s not surprising," Ibera said. "When I even have a conversation with my friends about possibly going back, the first reaction is, 'You don’t want to go back."
Ibera said letting educators teach the way they’re comfortable would also help, adding that the school district changes curriculum far too often.
"If I can get better parent involvement in every way, that would make all the difference in the world," Ibera said.
Former teachers answering an informal question on the News4Jax Facebook page gave several reasons for leaving the profession: Underpaid, overworked, underappreciated and there’s too much focus on standardized testing instead of teaching.