Monroe schools wants to hire 'virtual teachers' to address staffing shortages
The teacher shortage in the Keys has gotten so bad, the school district plans to hire virtual teachers for the upcoming school year.
Monroe County schools Superintendent Theresa Axford says it’s a constant struggle to hire staff because of the affordable housing crisis in the Keys.
"We lost a teacher today because she can’t find a place to live," she said at a school board meeting on Tuesday.
Now, the school district has plans to hire virtual teachers who will teach classes via video calls, through a company called Elevate K-12.
The remote teachers will be supported by a teacher’s aide who will physically be in the classroom with the students.
"That is not the most desirable form," Axford said. "But it is a way of getting a certified teacher working with students. And we’re going to pilot it and see how effective it is."
As of Thursday, an MCSD spokesperson told WLRN the district had not yet signed a contract for the virtual teachers, but is exploring its options, with a plan to focus on key shortage areas like biology, chemistry and environmental science.
"When you can’t find an in-person teacher, Elevate LIVE brings the teacher to you," the company's website reads. "Nothing can replace a real teacher in a classroom, but we’re close. Our certified teachers, curriculum and technology brings your classrooms to life."
Enticing educators to move to the Keys
To entice potential educators, the Monroe County school district is offering signing bonuses and trumpeting the idea of living and working in paradise. Salaries for teachers in Monroe County range from $61,500 to $97,700.
According to the Miami Herald, the district is also relaxing its requirement for teachers to be certified before starting work. Instead, the district will work with teachers to obtain their certification after the school year begins.
Across the country, school districts are scrambling to cover classrooms as teachers leave their jobs in growing numbers, state reports show. The turnover in some cases is highest among teachers of color. A major culprit: stress — from pandemic-era burnout, low pay and the intrusion of politics into classrooms.
Then there’s the pay: Educators’ salaries have been falling behind their college-educated peers in other professions.
There is no replacement for having an engaging, certified teacher in every classroom, but Axford said time is running out to find enough of them before the new school year.
"Things are not getting better. They're getting more difficult," Axford said. "So we're going to have to look at innovative ways to make sure that there is a certified teacher in front of every classroom."
As of Tuesday, Monroe County schools had 28 teacher vacancies. Classes in the Keys begin Aug. 10.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.