Photo: Brian Tietz
Floridian of the Year 2019
Lessons from Glades County's Teacher of the Year: Joy Prescott
For two years running, teachers at Pemayetv Emahakv have been honored as Glades County’s Teacher of the Year.
Joy Prescott went on to win Florida Teacher of the Year in 2019. Prescott, 42, says the honor made for a busy year as she traveled the state sharing her teaching wisdom on her favorite topic: Social and emotional learning (SEL). The idea behind SEL is teaching the kids how to interact kindly with one another, how to agree and disagree, how to own their mistakes and quite simply, how to get along.
As a fourth-grade teacher, Prescott tries to weave lessons into the curriculum where she can. One example is what she calls the “apple activity.” She presents two similar apples to the class and tells them that one apple represents a person she doesn’t like. The other apple represents someone she does like. Then she has the kids talk negatively to the “disliked” apple and heap praise on the “liked” apple. What the kids don’t know is that the night before Prescott took one of the apples and hit it on the floor a lot so that the inside would be bruised and mushy. She gets lots of “ahhhs” when she slices the apples open, and it drives an important message home. “You can tell kids words hurt all the time, but until you give them a visual, I don’t think they really get it,” she says.
One thing teachers have going for them that many private sector workers don’t: The possibility of a pension. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 16% of private industry workers have access to a defined-benefit pension plan.
For teachers, the trick is staying in the job long enough. In Florida, only 60,429 school system employees — the state pension administrator can’t distinguish between teachers and other school employees — have retired with the 30 years needed to get the full benefit. They average $40,261 in pension a year. Another 132,592 have become partially vested after teaching for at least six years. (The vesting requirement has since been raised to eight years.) Overall, retired school workers — teachers and all others — averaged 21.85 years of service and get $21,083 annually. School district retirees make up 46.5% of the state retirement system members, more than double county employees, the next largest category.
Unlike teachers in many states, Florida teachers also can get Social Security when they retire. Florida, like many employers trying to curb their pension costs, in 2002 gave employees such as teachers the option of a 401(k)-like investment plan that vests after one year and is portable — employees don’t lose the money if they change careers. So far, 39,888 teachers have opted for it.
Read more in Florida Trend's December issue.
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