Thousands of teachers in Southwest Florida have said goodbye to the education world over the past few years. But, at Florida Gulf Coast University, there are hundreds of students eager to become educators and make a difference.
“I see that they are eager to be teachers,” Professor Melissa Meehan said. “They are excited about it. There are some nerves, of course, of the unknown.”
Melissa Rodriguez Meehan went from teaching elementary schoolers to teaching future elementary school teachers at FGCU. ‘WINK Investigates’ reporter Kellie Miller had the opportunity to go back to school and sit in on one of Professor Meehan’s education classes for the day and talk one-on-one with some of her students.
“I love just being with children and just being with the youth. I just love being able to be that person that helps them,” Olivia Gonzalez said. “And I just love being that advocate that speaks for them.”
Gonzalez is a senior Child and Youth Studies major at FGCU. Her colleague, Daniella Andres, is a junior Special Education major.
“I’ve been interested in education for a while now,” Andres said. “I came to FGCU as a biology major, but before that, I had been working with kids over the summer. For me, it’s having a room full of different students and inspiring them and teaching them that they are going to be our future.”
For Andres and Gonzalez, it’s all about the kids. They are becoming teachers to make a difference in children’s lives. They have some fears but won’t let the challenges hold them back.
“When I actually have the environment, my biggest concern is how will I best accommodate all of the needs of my students in a beautifully effective way that looks seamless,” Gonzalez said.
Researchers at Brown University found that teacher pay, working conditions, and autonomy are top concerns for educators. Professor Meehan believes a lot of those issues came about over the past five years.
“It has changed tremendously in the sense of the pressure and the demands on the teachers,” she said. “There is a lot put on the plate and not necessarily a lot taken off. So, teachers are expected to do more and more, and they don’t necessarily have the resources, or they don’t have time.”
Meehan believes substantial changes need to be made in order to retain teachers. For example, she believes the structure of the school day should be changed to better accommodate the planning hours of teachers. Simply put, she said they need more time to prepare their lessons. She also believes all teachers, new and veteran, need to receive a pay increase.
“I firmly believe that teaching is a wonderful profession,” Meehan said. “It can be joyful and challenging at the same time. But if we don’t do something soon, I am concerned about what will happen to the education system in general.”
Regardless of the circumstances, Meehan encourages her students to stay positive and remember how meaningful the profession can be.
“I hope that I can be the best teacher I can be, and I hope I can continue to be a leader to others and be living proof that this can be done, and the certifications can be passed because I know that is one of the biggest obstacles we face as these majors, and I just can’t wait to see what the future looks like.”
“Being a teacher is something that is a lot of hard work,” Andres said. “Even though it could be stressful, and even though there are so many different challenges, don’t get scared, stay calm, and know that you are teaching future leaders of America…”
Entry rates into FGCU’s College of Education offer a glimmer of hope. According to the university’s 5-Year Data Profile, entry rates have grown over the last few years. The numbers below came from combining undergraduate and graduate students.
Entry rates into the College of Education: