What’s next in the education world? “Adjunct teachers” on the rise in Florida’s K-12 classrooms

Teacher in her classroom
Teacher in her classroom. Photo by Dave Einsel/Getty Images

If you’re a current or former college student, you’ve probably been taught at one time or another by an “adjunct” teacher rather than a full-time traditional professor.

The status of adjunct teachers – often low-paid, part-time and not tenured – has been controversial in the higher education sector.

But students, families and taxpayers may not know that part-time adjunct teachers have been quietly teaching in Florida’s K-12 classrooms for many years. And with teacher shortages continuing, adjunct teachers with non-traditional credentials may become an increasing reality in Florida’s public schools, reshaping the teaching workforce in Florida.

Once relegated to part-time status, the K-12 adjunct teachers in various fields would now be able to teach full time, according to a little-known section of legislation approved by the House and Senate in May.

How the adjunct teacher programs would work, and what professional benefits the adjuncts would get – if any – will be up to individual school districts. In the college arena, adjunct professors have been organizing into unions to bargain for higher pay and benefits.

The districts – not the state- would be the ones issuing the adjunct certificates.

According to the new legislation, full-time K-12 adjuncts wouldn’t need to pass the state’s General Knowledge Test – covering math, writing, reading, vocabulary, grammar and spelling — required for classroom teachers. Adjunct teachers would have to pass an exam in a specific subject, such as math, to show their expertise and be able to teach in that area. They would also need at least a bachelor’s degree or higher, with some exceptions.

That degree wouldn’t, however, have to include the traditional education coursework and student teaching that has been the cornerstone of teacher education for decades.

While both legislative chambers passed the legislation, Gov. Ron DeSantis still must review the bill before it can become law.

But officials in some school districts weren’t aware of the legislation and others weren’t even familiar with the term “adjunct teachers,” the Florida Phoenix found.

The Florida Department of Education provided data to the Phoenix on the number of teachers certified as adjuncts – close to 300 — but some districts weren’t clear about the figures. For example, they didn’t know if the data included instructors with high school degrees who teach career technical classes, who are not the same as adjunct teachers.

Two top Broward County school officials, Susan T. Rockelman and Susan Benak, said there was one part-time adjunct teacher in the district in 2019-20, and the other 100 adjunct teaching positions that show up in the Broward County data were related to public charter schools run by private entities.

They said they plan to review the new legislation to see how everything will play out when it comes to adjunct teachers in Florida classrooms.

With the advent of full-time adjunct teachers, administrators will need to figure out pay, hours, benefits and contractual agreements, as well as whether full-time adjunct teachers would be members of a teacher union.

“We don’t know yet — we would have to wait until the situation were to arise,” said Sonya Butler, coordinator of certification and recruitment at the Osceola School District in Central Florida.

So far, the district hasn’t hired adjunct teachers for next school year, but in 2018-19, about eight adjunct teachers were used to teach math, Butler said. Most had Master’s degrees, and all passed a subject-area exam in math to show their expertise.

“It is a way to attract people from other areas and walks of life who have a degree, may or may not be working another job, but may want to do some periods a day of math, or something along that line,” Butler said.

Someone like a retired engineer who is great in math could fit in that schedule, either part time or full time.

“We are putting a great focus on career changers,” Butler said. “There’s been a decline in graduates in our education programs across the nation, so we’ve been looking…to try to find teachers.”

It isn’t the first time that Florida has used non-traditional avenues to get teachers into classrooms. Adjunct teachers have been on the scene since at least the early 2000s.

In 2003, Florida law said part-time adjunct teachers “should be used as a strategy to reduce the teacher shortage; thus, adjunct certificate holders should supplement a school’s instructional staff, not supplant it.” In 2018, the law said that adjunct teachers “should be used as a strategy to enhance the diversity of course offerings offered to all students.”

In the current legislation, full-time adjunct teachers can get a certificate for no more than three years and it won’t be renewable. School districts will have to post the requirements for getting an adjunct teaching certificate on their websites, and report annually on the number of adjunct teaching certificates issued for part-time and full-time teaching positions.

Florida isn’t the only state pursuing these kinds of strategies.

The Education Commission of the States, a Colorado-based nonprofit group that tracks education policies nationwide, said that several states are involved in non-traditional teaching initiatives.

For example, Oklahoma is authorizing the use of adjunct teachers with distinguished qualifications to teach without the usual teaching credentials.

“And North Carolina passed a unique piece of legislation allowing an individual to teach the Cherokee language and cultural classes without a (teaching) license,” said Jennifer Thomsen, a policy director at the commission of the states.

State Rep. Amber Mariano, a Republican who represents part of Pasco County, was instrumental in pushing through the legislation that included full-time adjunct teachers in Florida classrooms. She is working now to become a teacher and teach high school government classes, after getting a bachelor’s degree in political science.

Mariano said that she understands the concerns that higher education adjunct teachers have been dealing with, and that the changes for adjunct teachers in K-12 classrooms could be challenging.

But she knows there are teacher shortages in certain areas and schools are looking to fill positions, including using adjuncts, such as retirees, who have expertise in certain fields and can help students grow.

“With this bill, we’re going to have so many opportunities for our students,” Mariano said, “and we’re making sure that we have the manpower.”

 

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