Fewer people in New Jersey choose to become teachers

(The Center Square) – The pandemic made New Jersey’s teacher shortage worse, but the problem has been emerging for some time, a spokesperson for the New Jersey Education Association said.

Rules adopted by the State Board of Education loosen teacher certification criteria in a five-year pilot program as it implements a new law intended to increase the number of teachers in New Jersey, NorthJersey.com reported. It waives minimum GPA or minimum test score requirements. These prospective teachers will be issued limited certificates of eligibility and limited certificates of eligibility with advanced standing.

The NJEDA took note of enrollment declines in teacher prep programs in New Jersey dating back about 10 years, Steven Baker, its director of communications, told The Center Square.

New Jersey’s universities and colleges awarded fewer than 3,500 teaching degrees in 2020, compared with more than 5,000 in 2011, NorthJersey.com reported.

Baker said some of the problems coincided with what he said were attacks on teacher salaries, pensions and health benefits by former Republican Gov. Chris Christie.

“In New Jersey, there was a period at which the profession was being badly devalued, and badly disrespected,” Baker said. “And as a result, we believe fewer people are choosing to go into the profession.”

The stress of teaching through the pandemic and other concerns, such as how teacher evaluations are handled to teacher prep requirements, are pushing people away, he said.

“Fundamentally, of course, there are not enough new teacher candidates to fill the positions of those who are leaving the profession,” Janet Bamford, chief public affairs officer for the New Jersey School Boards Association, wrote in an email to The Center Square via email. “While we have not seen research that quantifies the reasons for leaving, certainly the stress of being a teacher, particularly during the pandemic, has been a contributing factor.”

Many local boards of education have struggled to find qualified teachers, she said.

“It’s a lot of things that have conspired together to really make the profession less attractive to people coming in,” Baker said.

Lowering standards is a tough decision, he said. The NJEDA has always stood for very high standards.

“We want to make sure that when we do anything to adjust our certification requirements, it doesn’t lower our standards for who’s able to enter the profession,” he said.

But if unrealistic or unnecessary obstacles get in the way of qualified people who are well equipped to be effective educators, those should be examined, Baker said.

Lowering standards won’t be enough to solve the teacher shortage problem, he said. Several different approaches need to be examined, from how people are recruited into the profession to how educators are compensated. The state also needs to look at the underlying economics of the profession and the sheer amount of paperwork.

“It’s worth looking at any solution that maintains and continues to stand for high-quality schools,” Baker said. “But I don’t think that there’s any one solution that’s going to solve the problem. There’s no one magic wand.”

Bamford said the New Jersey School Boards Association supports legislative and regulatory efforts to build a more robust educator pipeline.

Paperwork brings with it frustrations. He was blunt about the time he said is wasted preparing for standardized tests and drilling students on them “rather than real teaching and learning.”

The state also put unrealistic limitations on salary growth that doesn’t exist in the private sector. New Jersey’s cost of living is one of the highest in the nation, he said. Teachers can’t afford to live in the community where they teach in many cases.