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Between the coronavirus pandemic, staffing shortages, and legislative initiatives, it has been a particularly difficult time for some teachers. We asked some about their biggest challenges, and we're sharing what they had to say, in their own words.

Tampa teachers face a crisis of morale, say rising workload is a factor

A male teacher in a peach-colored shirt stands before a class of students, teaching

Throughout the month of May, WUSF will feature the voices of local teachers, as they describe the challenges they face, in their own words.

Florida has made several new laws regarding education this year. WUSF recently asked teachers if these laws help or hurt their efforts in the classroom, what their current challenges are, and why some are leaving the profession. Here's what some told us about the rising workload and a crisis in morale.

"My name is Melissa Hall. I teach high school social studies and I'm in Hillsborough County.

"We've probably had seven or eight teachers leave mid-year. A lot of schools are having that same problem.

"Some of our classes are incredibly large. So for example, it's not uncommon for me to have a class of 34 students. And I have the smaller classes, in many cases. I have colleagues who have 36, 37, 38.

"We have a lot of very devoted educators who are suffering from a morale crisis and I would argue that 90% of it has nothing to do with what happens in our classrooms.

"A lot of people say it's because teachers don't make enough money. Guess what? We have never made enough money. That is not news. Nobody really goes into teaching going, 'You know what? I think I am going to be rich doing this.' I would argue that the majority of us realize we could get other jobs that pay more money. I don't think we can put it as just teacher pay. I don't think we can put it as just larger class sizes."

"But I think at the same time, it's when you add up all the small things, where it's like, you're being asked to do more with less every single time. It seems like every year we are pretty much promised next year is going to be harder. And then this domino effect starts. So somebody says, 'Enough is enough. I'm leaving.' And the next one says, 'Well, you know, what, if Miss Smith's leaving, why I betcha I could probably leave too.'

A headshot of gray-haired, bespectacled teacher Steve Conover, smiling at a teacher's conference
courtesy Steve Conover
Steve Conover teaches algebra

"My name is Steve Conover I teach algebra at a public charter school in Hillsborough County.

"It just seems like everything is speeding up, getting faster and faster. (People expect) more immediate responses. Not just classroom material with students, but also with administration and with what the state requires us to do. It just seems to be a larger and larger amount of things. And really, we can't spend the time decently on any of them.

"The laws that are being passed both federally and state level that my school has to, you know, honor and obey with, they're getting more detail-oriented. (Before) it was more of a — look, I'm going to put the kid first. Now (with 504 and IEP I have to go and tell you what day (it was), and what I did, as opposed to a generalized statement. It's the documentation of work.

"For us to teach and to do all of our things here, I cannot get it done in my -- I hate to say — contracted hours. But it's very hard for me not to take things home and do work at home. And then my own family and my own mental health is going to pay for that."

Read more from WUSF's Teacher Voicesseries

"My name is Aline Loges, I teach 11th and 12th grade and also freshmen in Hillsborough County.

"Almost every teacher I know takes work home, they stay up late grading. My husband teaches at another school in a district and he stays up late grading, he stays up late planning. It impacts our personal lives. And we're paid hourly. So we're only paid for the hours that were at school. So anything we do beyond the school day, we're basically doing on our own dime. And I take a lot of issue with that. That's one of the main reasons that I've considered leaving the profession in the past.

"During COVID, it was like, 'Oh, my God, teachers are amazing.' And then once it was time to get back into the classroom, people were pushing for teachers to get back in the classroom when the COVID rates are still high, which ended up being okay. But it felt like we weren't as valued, that our lives didn't even matter at that point. So it just, it kind of hurts that people don't seem to value us that much."

I cover health and K-12 education – two topics that have overlapped a lot since the pandemic began.
Bailey LeFever is a reporter focusing on education and health in the greater Tampa Bay region.