Sunday, April 22, 2018
Education

Young Pasco County teachers seek solidarity

LAND O'LAKES — Elizabeth Beck loves being a teacher.

In her nine years, though, "it seems to get harder every year instead of easier," Beck said, referring to changes in work loads, standards, curriculum and other aspects of the job.

When it comes to persuading other young educators to become active teacher advocates, the Pine View Elementary kindergarten teacher said, it's an uphill climb.

"We don't really get a lot of young people," Beck, 34, said of United School Employees of Pasco meetings, where she is an alternate school representative. "They'll say 'It's expensive and I can't afford it.' Or they'll say, 'I'm a new teacher and I don't have a continuing contract. Why should I join? You can't protect me.' "

In hopes of getting Pasco County's under-40 instructors to band together, Beck and Sand Pine Elementary third-grade teacher Nakita Gillespie are forming Pasco Young Educators. Its first meet-and-greet is set for Thursday.

They have a large group to tap into.

Of the county's 4,928 teachers, 2,012 — or 41 percent — are younger than 40.

The goal, Beck said, is to generate more camaraderie and support among this key cohort within the schools.

"We want them to understand they're not in it alone, and together we have some power," she explained. "If we stand together, we could make a difference in our policies for our students and our careers. When all of the older teachers who are active retire, who is going to pick up the torch?"

Gillespie, 26, said she's saddened when she hears reports that so many teachers leave the profession after three to five years on the job.

"Seeing people who started teaching when I started, who aren't teaching now, makes me more motivated," said the fifth-year educator, who has wanted to be a teacher since she was 5.

She envisions a group that shares solutions to common problems and helps teachers network outside their classrooms and school-based teams.

"The main purpose of our organization is rooted in positivity and awareness for our profession," she said. "We are the future of this profession. It's imperative that we do look out for the future of our profession."

Kenny Blankenship, USEP vice president for instructional personnel, said the union has supported Gillespie and Beck in their initiative. Blankenship, who is running to become USEP president, has said waning membership is a key concern.

A public employees labor organization must have the support of the majority of eligible workers.

"People who choose to be a teacher and stay a teacher in the current environment are making a difficult decision," he said. "Bright young teachers need to get together to hear about their passion for the profession and what it is going to take to keep them."

Beck doesn't have high hopes for quick growth. Based on her review of other counties' similar efforts, she said she'd feel good if five people show up for Thursday's event.

"People, they're busy," she said. "Think about that age bracket. They have kids or other commitments. They might have a second job."

Plus, she added, it's a big county.

But five would be enough to start, Beck suggested. "Hopefully five will grow to 10, and 10 to 20, and so forth."

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at [email protected], (813) 909-4614 or on Twitter @jeffsolochek. For more education news visit the Gradebook at tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.

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