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Exit interviews reveal the “brutal” truth behind why teachers are leaving Florida classrooms

Nearly 10% of Florida teachers left their district last year. Exit interviews help explain why.
Posted at 11:38 AM, Mar 28, 2024

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — While you likely won’t find a teacher who says money is what drew them into the classroom, in Florida, it’s a top reason driving them out.

That’s according to our review of more than 650 exit interviews conducted since 2023 with Florida teachers from Hillsborough County, Pinellas County, and Palm Beach County, who all chose to leave their jobs in the classrooms.

According to our analysis of the voluntary exit interviews:

  • about a third of teachers who filled out these surveys cited moving and relocation as a major reason for leaving.
  • nearly a quarter listed salary as a top area of concern.
  • Other notable factors for leaving included stress and lack of support from districts.

Investigative Reporter Katie LaGrone obtained these firsthand sentiments through a public records request following our investigation in January, which found that last school year, more than 18,000 Florida teachers left their districts. 

At the time, the separations represented nearly 10% of the state’s publicly employed teachers.

Sampling of Teacher Exit Comments

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In Hillsborough County, the district lost more than 1300 teachers last year, representing just over 9%, of the district’s teaching staff at the time.

Of the nearly 300 teachers who filled out an exit survey, nearly half rated their salary on a 1-5 scale, a dismal “1.”

One former teacher in the district described it like this:

“The salary is devoid of any logic or consideration given the cost of living increases that have impacted Hillsborough County and the nation as a whole.  What is clear is that students are NOT the priority of school districts. Trying to convince teachers of how noble the profession is and the subtext is to be comfortable being impoverished is sinister."

“Brutally honest is good; there’s a positive to that,” said district HR manager Dr. Charmion Patten when asked for her response to some of the comments left by former teachers.

With just a few months to go in the current school year, Hillsborough County still has nearly 400 teacher vacancies. That number is high, according to Patten.

Patten said she wasn’t surprised by the overall remarks left in last year’s exit interviews. But she was alarmed by how many teachers stated they were leaving not just the job, but the industry.

“Overall, it wasn’t disheartening; it was actually enlightening, and it made me say I’m glad that we know what we can focus on so we can make it better,” she said.

Though last year’s overall teacher exits in Florida were slightly lower than the record-high resignations a year prior, the separations represent the ongoing struggle to recruit and retain teachers in a state where salaries still rank among the lowest nationwide, qualifications are lowered, and classrooms remain an active battleground for politically driven agendas.

And, according to this batch of teacher exit interviews, it’s getting old.

One veteran teacher in Tampa summed it up like this:

“You should know many teachers are leaving due to insufficient pay and overbearing statewide legislation that is making teaching in not just Hillsborough Co., but in Florida, a daunting experience.”

While a middle school teacher in Palm Beach County left stating this about politics in education.

“It currently feels as though teachers are being hung out to dry in response to Governor DeSantis' transparent efforts to persecute educators in order to create sound bytes (sic) for his future run for president.”

The interviews also revealed Florida educators are leaving because of a lack of parent accountability and student respect. Dozens of teachers from both Florida coasts described how student behavior is “out of control.”

“There has been a decrease in disciplinary action but a dramatic increase in extreme behavioral issues,” explained a former Hillsborough County teacher.

“There are students with multiple infractions that are allowed to remain on campuses there. They sow discord and often make it harder for other students to learn,” stated a former teacher in Palm Beach County.

The following comment comes from a former elementary school educator in Pinellas County. This teacher left just weeks after starting this current school year.

“The absolutely ridiculous and violent behavior of the students coupled with little to no consequences for said behavior was abhorrent. In the less than 3 weeks in this position I hated every minute of the day. It was negative and I couldn't wait to leave each day.”
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