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Flight from Florida - Why Teachers Are Leaving 


In the wake of intensifying battles over female reproductive rights in America, highly qualified medical residents interested in practicing obstetrics and gynecology are increasingly declining to complete their residencies in states with higher restrictions, amounting to a 10.5 percent drop total. When asked, their reasoning is that they desire the freedom to practice medicine in a place that will not micromanage their actions at best and imprison them at worst. After all, what doctor wants to feel unsafe helping someone in one state when they could easily go somewhere else without the same complications?

Similarly, teachers are leaving schools all over the country, and even more so in states where violating new restrictions could mean jail time. Most notably, Florida passed legislation on April 19th to expand the “Don’t Say Gay” bill that applies instruction bans beyond third grade and into all classrooms in grades 4-12. Under the bill, lessons that relate to gender identity or sexual orientation are now forbidden with the one exception of optional learning on reproductive health in relevant subject area classes. However, any materials in all other courses with content that is even peripheral to taboo topics could result in the punishment of teachers, from classroom removal to worse. Furthermore, students who could have been learned more about complex topics in a safe environment with qualified adults will now be largely ignorant or highly inconsistent in what knowledge they glean, whether parents, peers or (alas, but all too frequently) TikTok are their primary source of information.

Like the medical residents fleeing states with draconian laws, so too will teachers flee Florida. In fact, it’s been happening for a while, which makes one wonder about how the voices of some particularly loud, fearful people make life worse for everyone else. According to the Florida Education Association, “Even before the Covid pandemic, 40 percent of Florida’s new teachers left
the classroom within their first five years in the profession, state records show. This is 15 to 20 percent above the national average, depending on the year.” And when the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education explored the reason for such a noticeable exodus, their research uncovered that teachers were leaving “based on complaints about a lack of professional autonomy and low wages.” In other words, before all this brouhaha started, Florida teachers already noted a widespread lack of respect for their expertise and very little financial motivation to remain where they were.

Now, the situation is worse by far. In January, the Orlando Sentinel reported 5,300 teacher vacancies with an additional 4,600 postings for other school-based jobs, like classroom aides. Several Florida newspapers across the state, from the Miami Herald to the Tampa Bay Times, also report significant shortages in the upper thousands. The numbers have skyrocketed in the five years since the Florida Education Association reported pre-pandemic shortages, and conditions will only worsen now that teachers are barred from even glancing mentions that relate to sexual orientation. There goes a lot of context on great figures in history, from writers to politicians to groundbreaking scientists. Want to help students understand the plays of Tennessee Williams? No longer possible. Discuss the murder of Matthew Shepard? Nope. Prevent the endless cycling of hatred against the LGBTQ+ community through education rather than ignorant fear? As if.

A large enough percentage of people in Florida support politicians who govern with hatred rather than with understanding, and who feel that exerting an unrealistic amount of control over everything a child experiences is both productive and possible. But the world is changing, whether fear mongering individuals want it to or not. The question is: will enough qualified educators remain to teach in states that push them down?
As a parent, I know that having children and teaching children are two entirely different propositions. Had I never spent any time in a classroom, I might be guilty of conflating two jobs that can look similar in some ways, but that are completely different. However, as people should have learned during the Zoom pandemic days, teachers do all kinds of things that parents have no earthly idea how to do. Sadly, all some individuals have gotten from that time of intense national stress was that teachers are somehow the enemy.

Here’s the reality: teachers have skills and expertise that politicians and parents do not. Just as I would never dare tell a gynecologist what it takes to save a woman’s life, so too should laypeople stop exerting a stranglehold on what occurs in classrooms. It is only leading highly skilled individuals to flee schools in droves. After all, who wants to be trapped in a defensive stance while being underpaid, micromanaged and placed in potential danger for their pains?

No, thank you. That is what so many Florida teachers are saying, and as this school year draws to a close, it will be interesting to see what shortage numbers look like into the fall. If legislators in the Sunshine State want to backpedal before they lose another massive group of highly qualified individuals, now would be the time to get out of the way. Otherwise, and quite deservedly so, they will answer to angry constituents who wonder where all the good teachers have gone.

Written by Miriam Plotinsky, Education World Contributing Writer

Miriam Plotinsky is an instructional specialist with Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland, where she has taught and led for more than 20 years. She is the author of Teach More, Hover Less and Lead Like a Teacher. She is also a National Board-Certified Teacher with additional certification in administration and supervision. She can be reached at or via Twitter: @MirPloMCPS