USF students prepare to become teachers despite political controversy and constant discouragement
As many college students plan for their futures, students pursuing careers in education have had to shift their expectations and brace themselves to enter a career field in crisis.
Teacher morale has decreased significantly since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, shortages have plagued school districts across the nation, and new laws regarding education continue to change the career field; making it hard for future teachers to see why they chose the career in the first place.
However, students at the University of South Florida say they are continuing to pursue careers in education and are preparing themselves for the challenges ahead.
Chloe Chandler is studying history at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg campus and plans to get her masters in teaching after graduation. She said she chose to pursue a career in education because she wants to empower children.
But, she said new Florida laws that might censor what she can teach as a history teacher, like the the “Individual Freedom Act” or what critics call the “don’t say gay bill,” make her nervous that she won’t be able to do her job properly. She said that censoring information taught to students about history would limit students’ understanding of the world and each other.
“It honestly scares me a little bit, it really does,” Chandler said. “I've always been the type of person where I want to accept challenges head on and I'm really passionate to the point of being clear about what the future of education looks like, and what this next generation of students looks like.”
“I think these students will not be able to thrive in a world where they feel censored and where they feel limited,” Chandler said. “As people who are so closely in interaction with these students, we would be doing them a disservice by, you know, censoring them, and all that kind of stuff.”
Read more from WUSF's Teacher Voices series
McLain Miller is studying education at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg Campus and hopes to teach elementary education after graduation. She said she was inspired by her dad to become a teacher and has known she wanted to be a teacher since the day she began pretending to teach her very own students in her father’s classroom after school.
She said that although teaching has always been the career she saw herself in, she has had to work really hard to ignore the opinions of others and the negativity associated with the career field.
“The one thing right now is a lot of teachers are quitting, which makes it really hard for someone in my shoes to want to continue going,” Miller said. “Even today, my last day of my internship, part of a team had told me to really think about becoming a teacher before I become it (one). Meaning like, don't become a teacher. That's very challenging to hear. And that was very damaging to my confidence going into my career.”
“I think fresh faces inside education is really going to help reshape how education looks,” Miller said. “I want to make this profession something that people want to be a part of.”
Christina Kopita is studying elementary and special education at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg Campus and plans to teach fourth or fifth grade. She said she has always known that she wanted to work with kids and is inspired by stories from her cousin about teachers who have impacted his life.
She said she wants to stay in Florida to pursue teaching but is nervous about starting her career because of how many teachers are leaving the profession. She said, despite her hesitancy, she knows she has to stick with her decision to become a teacher because she is so close to starting and doesn’t know what else she would do without it.
“It's very heartbreaking because all you see are people posting (about) how it's their last day in the classroom,” Kopita said. “You know they're making the right choice for themselves and you can't blame them because it is a very intense field right now. I think COVID definitely impacted teachers and students. So you can't blame them for leaving because they have to do what they have to do for themselves at the end of the day.”
“But it's definitely very nerve wracking. Seeing it all,” Kopita said. “How I think about it is, what if I quit, that's another person who quits on these kids. How many people are going to quit?”
“So I say, keep going for the kids. It truly is so rewarding,” Kopita said. “I want to experience it myself. I think I need to teach before I call it. I just have to take it (teaching) with a grain of salt.”