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Between the coronavirus pandemic, staffing shortages, and legislative initiatives, it has been a particularly difficult time for some teachers. We asked some about their biggest challenges, and we're sharing what they had to say, in their own words.

Florida raised the starting salary for teachers, but longtime educators say they face stagnant pay

Tracie Overdorff head shot
Courtesy: Tracie Overdorff
Tracie Overdorff teaches all middle school grades, STEM and coding.

Throughout the month of May, WUSF will feature the voices of local teachers, as they describe the challenges they face, in their own words.

Florida ranks almost last in the country when it comes to school teacher pay.

While a new report from the National Education Association found that Florida is 16th in the country with an average teacher starting salary of just over $44,000 a year, the average Florida public school teacher only makes about $51,000 — placing Florida 48th in teacher compensation nationwide.

WUSF is talking to teachers about the challenges they're facing in the classroom, and why some are leaving the profession. Here's what two told us about their salaries and the cost of living.

"My name is Tracie Overdorff. I teach at a public charter school in Hillsborough County. I teach middle school. I actually teach all three grades, sixth, seventh and eighth grade. And I teach an elective called STEM. And I actually also teach coding.

"I'm working on solar cars today. And I'm watching my students like, 'can I go outside and test it?' And I'm like, 'okay,' and I'm watching them through the window test it and they're outside it runs. And they're just, just jumping up and down, because this solar car that they couldn't get to work is running, and they're so excited. And so that's amazing. It's really, yeah, I do love that part of teaching.

"For me, I've always said it's never the kids. If I left teaching, it's never the students. Teacher pay is, is huge. I know we're they've been trying for raises and increments and we've increased the base salary of beginning teachers.

"But as a teacher who has been teaching for 25 years, we're getting sandwiched. So where you're raising the bottom level, the upper levels are getting crunched. And I don't know if many people know this, but at 25 years, you don't get any more pay increases.

"I mean, we're educating our youth, we're educating your children. Isn't that worth it? Isn't that worth just as much as you say that other industries are worth? I say it is. They're, they're your future."

Read more from WUSF's Teacher Voices series

"My name is Oren Shahar. I work at classical Preparatory School in Spring Hill in Pasco County and I teach seventh and eighth grade science.

"If I don't come back next year, it's because I simply can't afford to stay in the area.

"Like I've had to think about myself literally be able to keep a roof over my head. If where I'm renting from, if I renew their chooses to bring up my rent 20 percent I need to move somewhere else. And if I don't move somewhere else, I need to find stuff a different job that pays more.

"I'm lucky enough where I've already paid off my student loans. So I'm not worried about that. But I still need to work with the fact that my car is over eight years old. At a certain point, it's time to get a new car, which means I have to be able to find a car and be able to afford a car. And with the prices are how they are now with inflation happening, that's not going to happen on teacher salary.

"I don't live extravagantly. But I do need to be able to live on the money that I earn. And this is one of the reasons why we're having the teacher shortage.

"Yes, the governor, and I applaud him for the fact that he increased teacher base pay to an average level compared to other states. But that was before, the prices of everything went up tremendously."

Bailey LeFever is a reporter focusing on education and health in the greater Tampa Bay region.
I cover health and K-12 education – two topics that have overlapped a lot since the pandemic began.
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