Frustrated Pinellas teachers rally for change

Teachers in Pinellas County gathered Tuesday to protest the school district and the state.

The teachers said the changing school environment is driving talented educators out of classrooms and into retirement or other fields.

The Pinellas County teachers told FOX 13 that they're fed up, overworked and frustrated. They want control over their own classrooms and they want the state stay out.

Once the school bell rang Tuesday, the teachers brought their lesson from the classroom to the school board.

"Just let our teachers teach, just let our children learn," said Eileen Long, who has taught for 33 years.

They stood on the sidewalk, wore red and held signs like this one: "Wonder why teachers are retiring early and leaving the profession? Ask me."

"What I'm hearing from teachers around the state of Florida is they are actually getting physically ill from teaching the standards that are developmentally inappropriate, especially for our youngest learners," said parent Laura McCrary.

The group said veteran teachers are retiring because of how the state forces them to teach and assesses their performance. They say class sizes are getting bigger, while time to plan their days is getting shorter.

"They are expecting kids to write before they can read, and I've had enough of it. All of our good teachers are leaving," McCrary said.

The teachers want smaller class sizes, uninterrupted planning time, research based assessments and incentives to keep teachers in Pinellas County classrooms.

They brought those demands inside to the school board meeting, using words like "defeated" and "disillusioned."

"The entire concept of learning being an exciting fun-filled elevating experience is wasting away," said one teacher during the public comments. "Critical thinking and literacy have been abandoned and replaced with test scores and data."

"I am tired of politicians and administrators belittling, demoralizing and micro-managing teachers," another teacher said.

All of this comes in the midst of teacher and support staff contract negotiations. School officials said a lot of these concerns will be addressed through the negotiation process.

"We are going to continue to work with the union to make sure the best system of support is in place, not only for our teachers, but our students. Because at the end of the day, we all want to see our students succeed," said Pinellas Schools spokesperson Lisa Wolf.

Wolf said the district has no plans to increase class sizes.

As for state issues, Superintendent Mike Grego is part of a statewide superintendents group. Wolf said he has brought and will continue to bring those concerns to lawmakers in Tallahassee.