Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Teacher Shortage Should Result In Simplified Licensure in Florida

Ever since I've moved to Florida, I've seen news stories about the teacher shortage. Since I am a certified teacher from another state, those stories intrigued me. Eventually, I decided to give teaching in Florida a shot, but it was more complicated to than I expected to get licensed. Maybe my experience will help other teachers from out-of-state to navigate the whole process.

Getting interviews wasn't the problem. Actually, even getting hired wasn't the problem. I had a great interview and got hired at a school. I was told to get on the licensing immediately, which I did. Someone in the back of the room is asking why I didn't get licensed BEFORE the job search, and there are two reasons. 1. The search was over as soon as it began, like within a week. 2. The FLDOE website says:
To be issued a Florida Temporary Certificate, an individual must be employed either in a public school or a nonpublic school that has a state-approved program for demonstration of professional education competence (a requirement for issuance of a Florida Professional Certificate).
I believe the preceding quote was taken by me slightly out of context and order, but I took it to mean I needed a job before I could get a license. I can see now that I could have applied for the Statement of Eligibility (SOE) at any time, so I should have been working on that as soon as I made the decision to submit my resume. At most, we're talking about the difference of a couple of weeks, since going back to teaching was kind of a spur of the moment decision for me. I am not sure what the Temporary Certificate actually is, since I applied for a regular teaching license, as far as I can tell, and I don't have an option to add a temporary certificate to at least be certified more quickly.

Another problem I had was that my offer came from the public school realm, whereas my wife was hired by a private school. Her school required her to get a Florida license, but it was kind of an afterthought, and another teacher hired alongside her didn't even apply for the license for over a year. That's totally different from the public school requirement that you need a license to be hired. From what I can tell, I am not eligible for public school employment without the SOE saying I am. That's very different from a private school scenario.

I called FLDOE twice to try to figure out what was going on, and I was told the process is 90 days to process an application. That might work out for me, but the employer is starting to get concerned at 30 days. And if I had been hired in July to start the school year in August, I don't think I could have stayed. All this means that you must have an SOE ready for your district if you are going to teach immediately at a public school in Florida. The quote above seems to apply to some sort of temporary teaching certificate, and I don't know how this fits in, since Florida claims it does not issue "Emergency" certificates.

Your SOE will say you need fingerprints. When you get hired by the school, then the school will order the fingerprinting and send it in. My wife had to have hers done for the private school and then again on her own for the FLDOE. I don't know why, but I am pretty sure her experiences helped to lead to my own confusion.

If want to ask questions of the Duval County Schools Certification Department, good luck. I called, got a voicemail, and then was told the voicemail inbox was full. No help there. And if you need to call FLDOE, you will wait for 30 minutes to talk to someone. I did find out that I have an Educator Certification Number, but that's not the same as a Statement of Eligibility. It's also not in an obvious place on the website, but I figured I could send it to my school to prove I have done what I claimed I did. 

The issue I have is really that it should not take 90 days in ALL cases to get a license issued. If I wait 90 minutes at the DMV for a license, I am angry. When there's a teacher shortage in a state that has a lot of people relocating, the process could probably be streamlined. I have a valid teaching license from another state, and I submitted all the documents needed. That should be enough for an immediate (probationary, temporary, emergency) license that can be used for employment purposes. In Jacksonville, we have all kinds of military families, and there are probably spouses with out of state licenses who see the whole process as daunting, especially if they're not planning on being here forever.

Even if it seems like you won't teach in Florida, it's best to get the process done, pay your $75 license fee, and be ready. If you suddenly decide to apply for a teaching job (and there are plenty right now), then you won't run into the problems I am having. I am even being told that the school might have to rescind the offer if I don't get my license soon, and I did everything as quickly as I could. Even if you get hired by a private school, you'll look like a rock star when you show up with a license almost as soon as you've been hired.

After days of contacting FLDOE and my school, I decided to try my local representatives (house and senate) in Tallahassee, as well as a written message to FLDOE. Even if none of them respond, it's now part of the public record that I tried everything possible to get my teaching license in time.

A man who works for my state representative contacted me to say that he was told by the Department of Education that there is no wait time unless the teacher asks for it. Technically, that might be true, and FLDOE might issue licenses immediately, once past the 90-day backlog. So I responded with more details of my experience. He thanked me and said he'd find out more by the end of the day. At 5:18 PM, I received my SOE in an email.

I'd love to give credit to my representative and his staff, but I don't want every teacher contacting them, so my advice would be that if you need immediate attention paid to your license (and you already live in Florida), contact your state rep or senator.

I am hoping that my situation does some good. I told my wife that there should be some kind of priority given to anyone who has already been hired or who already has a license from another state. Someone who is just renewing a license and staying put at his or her school can probably afford to wait the three months. I could not, and my hope is that my story helps others who cannot.