Teachers sound off about conditions amid Lee County shortage, ‘I can’t afford the rent’

Reporter: Claire Galt Writer: Paul Dolan
Published: Updated:

Cute and cozy middle and high school classrooms are turning into bleak, overcrowded lecture halls devoid of vitality.

It’s a reality some teachers feel is on the horizon because of the teacher shortage in Lee County, without an end in sight.

On Wednesday, WINK News talked to teachers from Lee County schools who quit their jobs. They were pleading for help and talked about all the extra work they were doing without getting extra pay.

The next day, former and current teachers reached out in droves via calls, texts and emails. Then, on Friday, even more contacted WINK News.

The dean of Oak Hammock Middle School felt as though she had to pick up the phone and call WINK News to say how her school is running out of options and teachers.

Very rarely does one story prompt such a reaction. Nevertheless, the teachers WINK News spoke to believe if quitting won’t change things, maybe a series of TV news stories will.

The following are just some of the teachers that WINK News spoke to and what they had to share.

“I cannot afford to stay. I can’t afford to put my little one in daycare. I can’t afford the rent,” said Christine Carberry.

“I have to work ’til six most nights, and my baby at home is 18 months,” said Brigette Rivette.

“We couldn’t keep up with the mortgage trying to fix everything, so we had to be foreclosed on our home,” said Brooke Throne.

“It wasn’t livable,” said Tamryn Taylor.

“Pay your teachers. Otherwise, it’s just going to get worse,” said Stacy Sawyer, “and there’s going to be less good teachers out there to help you.”

Sawyer invited WINK News to meet with her on Friday morning at her store, Pineapple Picasso. She opened it after she quit Lee County schools in May, after teaching middle school for 30 years.

“I woke up every morning, I got to the point where I hated teaching. I hated going to work because I felt undervalued, and it’s, it’s a district thing,” explained Sawyer. “I didn’t feel undervalued from administration or the other teachers. I love them. It was the district.”

Sawyer explained “teacher tired” is a phrase some teachers are calling how they feel.

“Teacher tired is that exhaustion of when you finally leave, when parent pickup finally gets done, which can be an hour after school is done,” said Sawyer, “and you are so tired that you can’t even walk to your car, and you get home, and you’re just spent and trying to deal with your kids or the rest of your family or whatever, make dinner and everything. You’re so tired that you fall asleep on the couch that night. It was a depressing feeling to the point where I just, I couldn’t do it anymore.”

Sawyer got out of the debilitating career and is happier than she’s ever been. She’s splattering paint and shooting water guns inside Pineapple Picasso.

“I love it. It’s everything that I dreamed of,” said Sawyer. “Plus, I’m still going to be able to teach because I just started homeschool classes, so this time it’s going to be on my terms, not the district’s terms.”

Even though she found a happy ending, Sawyer worries about the students getting left behind.

“They have this shortage of teachers, which they made themselves, the district did it themselves, but the shortage of teachers is hurting the kids tremendously,” said Sawyer.

For three days, WINK News has asked Lee County schools to make someone available to talk. However, the district only sent a statement that says in part, “We are in collective bargaining so it is inappropriate to negotiate in the media but the School Board and Superintendent are committed to paying School District staff as much as possible. We remain dedicated to identifying available areas of the budget that can be used to contribute to compensation both now and in the future.”

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