Conor Norris, Edward Timmons: Florida parents have nothing to fear from trooper teachers

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With a plethora of openings for teachers across the state, the Florida Legislature recently passed SB 896, helping to combat the shortage of available teachers. The bill offers an alternate pathway for military veterans who want to become teachers. Despite the worries and dire predictions, in reality, this incremental reform will remove some hurdles for veterans without harming students.

Schools across the U.S. are facing a shortage of teachers, and Florida is no exception. Professional burnout drove nearly half a million teachers from the profession, as pandemic-related safety guidelines forced frequent changes to instruction and added incredible stress.

In Florida, school districts are looking to fill around 9,000 vacancies for teachers. Before the pandemic, it was less than half the current level. This is a serious problem that can disrupt students’ education.

SB 896 can help — but not solve — the current shortage. The new law expands pathways for veterans to become teachers. But some are concerned that it lowers requirements too much and will harm students.

It is important to consider this reform in the right context. Before SB 896, Florida offered multiple pathways outside of the traditional route. Some examples include:

— Mid-career professionals can attend an Educator Preparation Institute that provides training for their move to the classroom.

— Non-degree teachers of career education can teach specific subjects directly related to their education and career experience without further training.

— The Federal Troops to Teachers program provides counseling and helps returning service members meet their education requirements.

Temporary Educator Certificates require a bachelor’s degree and completion of a competency exam. It is valid for three years, after which the Certificate holder must obtain a permanent teaching certificate.

The new pathway offered to former service members is most similar to the Temporary Educator Certificate. Former service members that served a minimum of 48 months with an honorable or medical discharge are eligible. They must earn a 2.5 GPA for 60 college credits and pass the same subject matter exam as the Temporary Educator Certificate. Unlike the temporary educator certificate, this reform only includes grades 6-12. The certificate is valid for five years, during which time the holder must meet the requirements for a permanent teaching certificate.

Rather than “lowering the bar” in Florida’s classrooms, it simply relaxes the bachelor’s degree requirement for veterans, by accepting their military experience. Military training builds useful skills that veterans use to succeed in numerous post-service careers — the types of skills that many college courses seek to develop in students.

We shouldn’t prevent a veteran from teaching just because they didn’t take an unrelated college elective. Four years of military service, two years of college, and passing a state exam means they are much more than a “warm body” in a classroom.

Teachers have to meet a lot of requirements, and that’s because teaching can be really hard. Anyone with kids knows that. Many of them continue on to earn master’s degrees while teaching to improve their skills. So, some may think that allowing veterans to teach without a bachelor’s degree seems downright insulting.

But in reality, it’s a relatively minor reform. The state will accept military experience as some of the training to allow them to get their foot in the door.

The ability to jump through unnecessary hoops should not define a good teacher. What really matters is demonstrating the ability to educate effectively in the classroom. Now, when Florida needs teachers more than ever, removing hurdles for veterans is a win-win for job seekers, students, and parents.

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Conor Norris is the assistant director and Edward Timmons is the director of the Knee Center for the Study of Occupational Regulation at West Virginia University. Timmons is also a senior research fellow with the Archbridge Institute.

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