To Teach or Not to Teach in Florida | Opinion

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Greetings OutSFL readers, Robby from Brooklyn here who is now Robby from Wilton Manors! A former Fort Lauderdale resident in the early 2010s I moved back to NYC for my family. Cut to 2016 when dad and sis vote for Trump and continue to vote Republican. I packed up my bags and left for good this summer. I LOVE being back in South Florida, minus the horrific political landscape for our community.

Which brings me to the reason for today’s column. In my former life I was a teacher. I taught in Miami Dade for many years. I LOVED being a teacher. It was something I was very good at it. Not to toot my own horn but I did win awards. Plural. In one school my students had a 99% passing rate on state tests every year I taught there. I coached swimming and cross-country teams and sponsored clubs like the Future Educators of America (FEA) and the Diversity Action Club. I still keep in touch with many students and families that I had the honor to teach.

I briefly taught for the NYCDOE before leaving the profession in 2018 after dealing with years of harassment from an awful Assistant Principal. For the past years I have been working as a freelance writer/blogger writing for queer outlets such as Instinct magazine, Letters from Camp Rehoboth and this fine paper.

Now here we are in 2023 in Florida under Republican/DeSantis rule and the teaching climate here, from all accounts, is disastrous. The Miami Herald reported in September that Florida leads the country in book bans, accounting for 40% of all the books banned nationwide. Fox13 in Tampa Bay reported in September that Florida has one of the lowest average teacher salaries ranking 48th - 48! - with an average yearly salary of $51k. Adding more depressing statistics the headline of that article read “Florida teacher shortage hitting record high…” DISASTROUS.

DeathSantis and his “Don’t Say Gay” initiative is virtually erasing the word gay from public schools statewide. Classroom libraries are now non-existent as terrified teachers are worried they could face charges if a book with queer content is found in their classroom. Solution: remove all the books from their classroom. Queer students and teachers are under attack in our sunshine state.

I am an out and proud queer activist. I have been arrested numerous times for civil disobedience protesting the Trump administration. I wear those arrests like a badge of honor. So why on Earth would I consider re-entering the classroom?

The answer is easy: money. Convictions, morals - they don’t pay the rent. And my fabulous new apartment in Wilton Manors isn’t going to pay for itself. Freelance writing is not a lucrative get rich quick type of career. I have already filled out forms to start substitute teaching with a seminar scheduled for today. I did stupidly let my Professional Teaching Certifications lapse thinking my time in Florida had come and gone.

A different point of view can look at this situation and think that now more than ever students need queer teachers? Is just being a teacher in Florida in 2023 an act of defiance? Does showing up every day constitute a form of protest? Queer people have always existed and some of them are teachers and students in Florida classrooms.

Some of the proudest moments of my life are when I received a text from a former student years later. They said that I was the first LGBTQ person they saw and they knew. And seeing me happy, and healthy with a career and friends and interests made their queer journey a little easier. (I actually get emotional just thinking about those messages.) It might be time to go back.

Wish me luck OutSFL. I hope to report nothing but great news and good times on my return to the classroom. (the over and under on that actually happening is slim lol). Stay tuned! Happy Holidays!


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