Education students express concerns about teachers’ working conditions

As teachers across the country strike for better working conditions, students in FAU’s College of Education support them in the hopes of having a better future in the profession.


Nicholas Windfelder

Joshua Katz responds to a comment that a student makes during his lecture.

Richard Pereira, News Editor

Teachers are essential to enhancing the education and knowledge they provide to students all across the world. However, they have been underappreciated in the United States. 

According to a study researchers from the Annenberg Institute at Brown University published in August, there are over 36,500 teacher vacancies in the country. Florida has one of the highest with over 3,900 open teaching positions.

Pay is a major issue for teachers in Florida. The National Education Association, the largest labor union in the country, reported that the annual salary for a K-12 teacher is $54,311. Regardless of Florida’s $44,040 starting salary, the overall average salary is at $51,009, only above West Virginia, South Dakota, and Mississippi.  

States such as Ohio and Washington have recently experienced teacher strikes. Teachers there have been demanding higher salaries and better working conditions.

These events have caught the eyes of those enrolled or working in FAU’s College of Education, which prepares educators and educational professionals to serve in six of the state’s public school districts.

Joshua Katz is a 49-year-old Ph.D. student in the college’s department of counselor education. He worked in public schools as a behavior analyst assistant as part of his internship and practicum for his master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling. He saw firsthand how under-resourced the schools were for students and teachers.

“It’s cost-prohibitive, and [the schools] cannot provide the services to these students. So then it gets left to the teachers who are not trained to work with these students with disabilities,” Katz said. “And then, they already have a classroom that’s overflowing with more students than they’re supposed to have in the first place. And then, it just becomes almost impossible to actually teach the class so I completely understand where they’re coming from, why they’re frustrated.”

Economist Sylvia Allegretto has looked into the teacher pay gaps throughout the country since 2004. (Courtesy of Sylvia Allegretto)

Sylvia Allegretto, a senior economist at a progressive think tank called “The Center for Economic and Policy Research”, has done research with the Economic Policy Institute on how teacher pay has fared in the country since 2004.

According to Allegretto’s research as of 2021, teachers are earning 23.5% less in weekly wages than college graduates who are not teachers. In Florida, the gap is 19.6%.

Even if students want to become teachers, Allegretto said they are less likely to do so because of opportunity costs.

“The teacher pay gap is saying that, on average, teachers are falling further and further behind than the other occupations that college grads go into,” Allegretto said. “You would have to imagine this is what is happening, that college graduates are more and more often not opting to be teachers but going into other professions that pay better.”

Elizabeth Shelby-Davis, a sophomore majoring in social science education, agrees with the demands the teachers are making.

“The work that is required of them to be able to teach [and] come up with lesson plans is definitely something that’s tiring and I think that extra pay would help with that,” Shelby-Davis said. “I’ve seen some of my teachers struggle in their work environment and complain about how there [are] less supplies and how it’s unsafe sometimes, especially with the recent shootings and stuff. It’s definitely a struggle for them and they’re scared, which reflects on the students as well. So I definitely agree with their strike.”

For students interested in going into education, Katz said they have to be passionate about wanting to teach. He blesses all the teachers that stay and look past the politics, pay, and everything involved with the profession.

“They’re truly there for the kids and they’re willing to put blinders onto everything else that’s happening because they’re going to just do what they can to make a difference. But it’s hard to find people that are willing to do that,” Katz said.

Portrait of Elizabeth Shelby-Davis. (Branden Connelley)

Regardless of the current conditions for teachers making Shelby-Davis cautious, she intends to continue entering the profession.

“I think with the teaching field and how the pay is, most people won’t switch towards it. They go towards a business major where they can make more money, Shelby-Davis said. “I think it’s definitely focusing on what your heart wants, and not [just] looking at the money aspect, but also wondering, ‘what do I want to do with my degree?’”

Allegretto believes generally having more worker voices and worker actions would help solve the teacher shortages in the country, especially in the form of unionization.

“I think when teachers go on strike, the kids, the students, and the community around them learn about this process and what it may be like,” Allegretto said. “There’s a lever that you can move one way or another, and unions and collective voices helped to make a fairer and more equitable economy.”

Katz said one of the most rewarding things he ever did was going to Washington, D.C., on Capitol Hill to lobby for LGBTQ+ rights. Even though it was not related to education, he got the experience of what it’s like to lobby and felt it to be rewarding.

“The more people are proactive about things like that, the more possibility there is to change and bring more awareness and get those salaries up and get the resources and funding that’s necessary to make the schools better,” Katz said.

Allegretto can’t think of many professions that are on a day-to-day basis as important as teaching. To her, teachers have a future in front of them every day.

“It’s not just that the kids learn and that the family structure will do better with good teachers and good public education and communities will do better, but it actually has the future of America and the future of our labor force in front of them every day,” Allegretto said.

Despite the current working conditions for teachers, Katz does not want to discourage students from being interested in entering the profession. According to him, schools are desperate for teachers all over the country.

“It is one of the few jobs [where] you can get a four-year degree and then literally go out there and there are endless possibilities for work,” Katz said. “We’ve heard about it in the news. They’re importing them from other countries right now because we just have such a shortage. So I would encourage people to consider going into the field.”

Richard Pereira is the News Editor for the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected] or tweet him @Rich26Pereira.