Educators in Florida are feeling stresses like never before, leaving many to reassess if their job really adds up.
IT’S THE MIDDLE OF A WEEKDAY AFTERnoon andJeananne Folaros, Ole Miss Class of 1974, is doing what she hasn’t done at that time of day in 42 years: She’s reading a book simply for pleasure — “The Nightingale.” It’s the story of teenage sisters in France in 1940 facing the coming German occupation and trying to survive, which might be only a slight exaggeration of the way some public-school teachers feel about their profession these days.
There’s a garden outside calling for the attention of Ms. Folaros, a glass of wine on her evening horizon, and the ringing din of a dynamic career in public education humming through her head.
“I’ve been retired for three weeks. It’s … such a luxury,” she confides, searching for words. “And I’m one of the lucky ones. I loved my job.”
Now she can call herself the former executive director of schools development in the Lee County School District, the Sunshine State’s ninth-largest and one of about 70.
FOLAROSShe could be from anywhere else in the state, though, and come to the same conclusion about the profession, she says: It’s a lot thornier than it used to be to teach school.
Ms. Folaros spent 13 years teaching English and journalism right out of Ole Miss, 20 years as a “champion” principal in the words of her colleague, Dr. Jeff McCullers, and nine years in district headquarters trying to make life better for her schools, their staffs and especially their students — all of which is why Florida Weekly has come calling.
She knows what she’s talking about.
So do other administrators, teachers and education activists in the region and the state who agreed to share their views of the noble profession here.
WISEAt least one disturbing conclusion can be drawn from what they tell us: Teachers now face what is arguably the most difficult and demanding stampede of challenges in the contemporary history of public education. And that’s not good for students who face, in turn, a range of contemporary social challenges they might not have experienced en masse in previous generations.
For teachers, there is less time than ever before to teach, they say. There is data crunching and lack of trust and constant state-mandated testing of stressed students. Teacher evaluations and one-year contracts are based on the success of students as measured in tests created by people who don’t teach. There is pay that will not cover the costs of education and family life.