Florida’s public school teachers need to be offered the military job of their choice.
It’s only fair. Maybe they need a break from teaching high school geometry, middle school social studies or reading to elementary schoolers.
They could use a breather from the confining rigors of a public school classroom in Florida, to see the world aboard a Navy destroyer, inside an Army tank, or on the flight line of an Air Force fighter squadron.
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I know. I know. There’s a lot of specialized training involved in your average military job. But it’s not like we’d allow Florida teachers to play soldier, sailor or airman forever. We can make it temporary. Say five years.
Which is the same length of time Florida is offering former military members a chance to become untrained, undereducated Florida K-12 public school teachers.
Lack of education no prob for teacher program
It’s part of a new state law that directs the Florida Department of Education to provide teaching jobs in schools to former military members who have served a minimum of four years of service, do not have bachelor’s degrees, but have a 2.5 or higher grade point average at least 60 college credits.
So, if you were a C+ student with the equivalent of a community college education and you’ve managed to get through a single enlistment in the military without getting a dishonorable discharge, you can bypass the certification requirements to be a new breed of Florida classroom teachers.
It’s hard to tell with Florida whether the aim of Gov. DeSantis and the state lawmakers is to come up with yet another way to degrade public education, or to pander shamelessly to the 1.5 million military veterans in the state.
Either way, Florida’s existing certified teachers – the ones who have made education their careers – ought to get some reciprocity here.
There’s already a program for vets to become teachers
Don’t get me wrong. Encouraging former military members to consider a career as a teacher after they leave the service is laudable. But not if the way you do it is by degrading the teaching profession.
And to make it all doubly foolish, there’s already an adult, responsible way to encourage military veterans to consider teaching careers. And it has been available to Florida’s veterans since 1993. That’s when the US Department of Defense started the Troops to Teachers (TTT) program.
The program helps military veterans to meet the licensing requirements to get a teacher’s job. The program offers veterans up to $5,000 to pay for their licensing requirements, and offers $10,000 bonuses to those veterans who decide to teach in schools in high-poverty areas.
Here’s the description of the TTT program by the US Department of Education:
“Members of the armed forces who wish to receive the program’s assistance for placement as an elementary or secondary school teacher must have a baccalaureate or advanced degree, and their last period of service in the armed forces must have been honorable,” it says.
“In selecting members of the armed forces to participate in the program, the Department of Defense must give priority to those members who have educational or military experience in science, mathematics, special education, or vocational/technical subjects and who agree to seek employment as teachers in a subject area compatible with their backgrounds.”
Note the difference: A college degree is required. Certification isn’t granted. Instead, the interested veterans are financially supported to meet the existing educational standards.
And the stipends for teaching in low-income schools addresses the teacher shortage in those areas.
The program, which is funded through the National Defense Authorization Bill, is currently extended through 2025, and according to the US Department of Education, it has already helped more than 100,000 veterans to transition into careers in education.
So forgive me, if I figure Florida’s slap-dash effort to offer teaching jobs to veterans with as little as 48 months of military service is little more than something designed to provide an applause line in an upcoming DeSantis campaign speech, and little else.
And bonus points will be awarded for now lumping people with bachelor’s degrees into the dreaded “elites” that must be vanquished in Florida.
The program is an offshoot to last year’s initiative to find jobs for veterans in Florida. The state’s “Get There Faster” program is an $8.6 million grant program to expand opportunities for veterans to find work.
The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, the Florida National Guard and the Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs have been partnering with local CareerSource Florida boards to hold hiring events known as “Paychecks for Patriots.”
But that’s no reason to use that effort to anoint them as qualified teachers in the state’s public schools.
Already, school districts are questioning the wisdom of potentially being asked to hire unprepared and non-certified teachers.
Unprepared teachers will “lower bar” on profession
The new state law seems to acknowledge its shortcomings by requiring schools to provide chaperones to the unqualified veterans for the first two years they are teaching. The law says these assigned “teacher mentors”, must be an existing teacher at the school who is certified, has three years teaching experience, and has earned an effective or highly effective rating on the prior year’s performance evaluation.
Oh, so certification is important after all.
This cockamamie new law is another unfunded mandate on public schools that is more of a new burden on them, not a help.
The law, which went into effect at the beginning of this month, is already being questioned. In Alachua County, school board members meeting in a workshop session this month, criticized the wisdom of hiring unprepared and non-certified teachers.
“It’s not that I’m against the service that veterans provide to our country,” board member Tina Certain said. “I just think that to the education profession, we’re lowering the bar on that and minimizing the criteria of what it takes to enter the profession.”
Carmen Ward, the president of the Alachua County teacher’s union, put it this way to The Gainesville Sun.
“There are many people who have gone through many hoops and hurdles to obtain a proper teaching certificate,” she said. “(Educators) are very dismayed that now someone with just a high school education can pass the test and can easily get a five-year temporary certificate.”
Frank Cerabino is a columnist at the Palm Beach Post, part of the USA TODAY Florida Network. You can reach him at [email protected] Help support our journalism. Subscribe today.