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How to Solve the Teacher Shortage in New Jersey

January 16, 2024

How To Solve The Teacher Shortage In New Jersey

Like most of the nation, New Jersey suffers from widespread teacher shortages. This crisis is reducing the quality of education students receive and negatively impacting their futures.

While district and school leaders are working hard, they’re struggling to find qualified teachers, especially for special education and STEM vacancies. Half-measures like larger class sizes, unqualified teachers, and using substitutes only perpetuate the problem, reducing teacher morale and contributing to burnout.

However, the Garden State is working to fight the shortage, and some districts are using unique approaches to make a difference in their schools.

Understanding the Teacher Shortage in New Jersey

At the beginning of the 2022-2023 school year, there were more than 5,000 teacher vacancies across New Jersey. 

Schools are taking drastic measures to solve the issue, like filling vacancies with underqualified candidates and begging teachers to come out of retirement. The scramble reflects the lack of long-term solutions for New Jersey school districts. 

The vacancies disproportionately affect more specialized teaching positions. Special education jobs are the most difficult to fill, with STEM roles not far behind.

How Many Schools Have a Teacher Shortage in the State?

Most schools in New Jersey have vacancies, but some schools struggle with staffing more than others. For example, the Perth Amboy Public School system in Atlantic County had 93 openings at the time this article was written. The Elmwood Park Public School system in Bergen County had only six openings. 

In New Jersey, urban districts have been chronically understaffed for decades and usually have the most vacancies.

What Is the State Doing To Fight the Teacher Shortage?

With the support of Gov. Phil Murphy, New Jersey established the Task Force on Public School Staff Shortages to provide recommendations for public schools. As a result, the New Jersey legislature and the Department of Education passed a series of bills to reduce the financial burden of teaching and lower barriers to entry. 

Some measures in these bills include: 

  • Expanding the student loan forgiveness program 
  • Eliminating redundant or lengthy testing requirements
  • Allowing retired teachers to return without risking their pensions

Districts have taken matters into their own hands by approving stipends, hiring bonuses for hard-to-fill positions, and other financial incentives for candidates.

The nonprofit New Jersey Center for Teaching and Learning (NJCTL) has partnered with schools to develop low-cost strategies for filling teacher vacancies. Their “Leave Replacement Program” provides online courses to underqualified substitutes covering long-term vacancies and offers a path to teacher certification.

Why Is There a Teacher Shortage in New Jersey?

Burnout and low salaries, the same issues educators face nationwide, are partly to blame for the teacher shortages in New Jersey. However, some barriers to recruiting new teaching candidates are specific to the state. Here are some of the reasons there is a teacher shortage in New Jersey:

Retirement and Attrition

In 2021, the retirement rate of New Jersey teachers increased by 10%. However, New Jersey is not alone — in America, 55% of educators are ready to retire sooner than planned.

Turnover of younger teachers is also high, with teachers choosing to leave the field entirely for other professions. The retention rate for New Jersey schools is around 90%, meaning 10% of teachers leave annually, and nearly 50% leave within ten years.

Poor Salary and Benefits Packages

Teachers have long received a lower salary than other professions with similar education requirements. However, salaries and benefits have failed to keep up with rapid inflation, making it more and more challenging for teachers to pay the bills. 

Meanwhile, districts are also cutting pension and healthcare benefits, forcing teachers to leave the field and discouraging others from pursuing a career in education.

Pandemic Impact

While many factors contributing to the teacher shortage existed before the pandemic, COVID-19 significantly impacted teachers and worsened the problem. 

The pandemic caused widespread burnout because of the extra demands placed on teachers. Suddenly, educators had to rapidly adapt to online learning, deal with constant policy changes, enforce masking rules, and more. Some teachers retired early or quit during the pandemic to avoid exposure to COVID in schools.

Since the peak of the pandemic, students have also fallen behind in learning, as well as in emotional and social skill development, further increasing teacher workloads. These challenges caused higher attrition rates throughout the country. 

Low Public School Budgets

Inadequate funding for public education makes it difficult for New Jersey school districts to solve the teacher shortage. With limited budgets, it’s difficult to pay teachers more or give them better benefits. It also makes it challenging to expand recruitment efforts and build a pipeline of candidates.

Limited Resources

In addition, low budgets lead to limited school resources, negatively impacting teachers’ day-to-day work. For example, they may deal with outdated textbooks, unmaintained buildings, or broken desks. They may not have supplies for art or creative activities. Students with special needs might not receive the necessary resources. 

All of this makes it more challenging for teachers to help students succeed. Teachers spend valuable time fighting for resources or resort to using their personal funds to equip their classrooms, contributing to low morale and burnout.

Fewer Students Choosing the Teaching Path

Seven years ago, for every 1,000 New Jersey students, nearly five people completed teacher preparation programs. Today, that ratio has dropped to two teachers per 1,000 students — lower than any other state — resulting in fewer candidates for schools to recruit.

The Impact of the Vacancies on Students and Schools

Ultimately, students suffer most from teacher shortages. These vacancies lead to:

Bigger Class Sizes

With fewer teachers, administrators end up expanding class sizes — if you only have one math teacher, you will have to put all the students into their class. As a result, students get less individual attention and limited access to help and resources, and some start to fall behind.

However, since the teacher has a massive, unsustainable workload, they often don’t realize that a student is struggling until the situation becomes dire. Even if they catch it early, there’s only so much time and so many resources they can commit to helping the student get back on track.

Reduced Course Offerings

Schools can’t offer music classes if they can’t find a music teacher. While less-qualified teachers can temporarily cover core curriculum courses during a shortage, many electives and expanded courses are simply unfeasible.

Students with limited class options have fewer opportunities to explore, get exposure to the arts, and learn about a wider variety of topics.

Learning Quality

When a school can’t find a certified teacher for a required course, they may temporarily cover classes with fewer qualified professionals. Without the proper training, these professionals can’t apply best teaching practices, leading to lower quality education in general.

Standardized test scores seem to reflect that students are learning less during the teaching shortage. Fewer than half of students are proficient in English language, and even fewer are proficient in math.

Reliance on Substitute Teachers

In New Jersey, lawmakers passed new legislation preventing substitute teachers from spending more than 20 instructional days in the same classroom yearly. However, a long-term vacancy may require administrators to rely on substitute teachers to cover the class. 

Not only are these substitutes less likely to be qualified, but this legislation means they need to be changed out every 20 days. This lack of stability negatively impacts students, as it disrupts learning and makes it difficult to build rapport or trust.

Administrative Challenges

Ongoing teacher shortages drain school resources, including administrators’ time and focus. When administrators spend their time scrambling to fill vacancies, they are less available to support their current teachers and students. As a result, they may lose even more teachers to burnout and inadequate support.

How To Address New Jersey’s Teacher Shortage Challenges

It’s worth thinking outside the box to fight staff shortages. Expanding recruiting efforts, taking advantage of new technology, and advocating for better teacher compensation can all make a difference in the crisis.

Targeted Recruitment for High-Need Areas

Strategically targeted recruitment means focusing resources on bringing teachers into the areas most affected by the shortage.

First, you should analyze to determine the grade levels, subjects, and specializations with the most vacancies. In New Jersey, the shortages disproportionately affect special education and STEM, but your school or district’s specific needs might differ. 

Then, you can develop outreach programs tailored to that area. For example, special education teachers could visit colleges and teacher training programs to discuss what they do. You could also partner with local colleges to create training tracks for high-need areas.

You can even develop your programs, sometimes in partnership with other organizations, to nurture, train, and mentor talent. Offering financial incentives as part of these programs to reduce barriers to entry could also be effective.

Investing in your existing teachers is essential, too. Tailored support programs, mentorship programs, and ongoing professional development can prevent teacher burnout and attrition rates.

Financial education technology also offers an effective way to help alleviate teacher shortages. Elevate delivers virtual, live teaching from certified teachers into your classrooms, allowing you to hire any teacher certified in your state, no matter where they live. 

Our teachers undergo an extensive vetting process, and we’re equipped to address areas of high need in schools. With an average lead time of two weeks to staff a vacancy, Elevate can help you fill your classrooms with trained, qualified teachers.

Competitive Salaries and Benefits

Your district should look for ways to offer better pay and benefits to prevent teachers from leaving for financial reasons. Unless teacher salaries rise to accommodate inflation and the modern challenges of teaching, the shortage will continue. Advocating for better teacher pay will improve working conditions and morale.

Alternative Certification Routes

Despite the low pay, teaching requires a four-year degree and special teacher certifications — both expensive and time-consuming. 

Developing alternative routes to teacher certification can open up paths for candidates from a variety of backgrounds. For example, it could make it easier for teacher candidates to change careers, for working students to get their certificates, or for paraprofessionals to become certified.

Some districts have already taken this approach, implementing stipends for student teachers, reimbursement for certification, and tuition remission.

The New Jersey State Board of Education also spearheaded a pilot program that reduces the requirements needed to apply for certification. It waives GPA and test score requirements to issue “Limited Instructional Certifications of Eligibility.” However, critics say this will lower teaching quality in the long run.

Elevate offers an alternative: Our live, remote instructors can immediately put experienced, certified teachers in your school. We can staff hard-to-fill vacancies, including special ed, and even offer summer school programs.

Reduced Barriers for Out-Of-State Teachers

New Jersey is a commuter state, and many people, including teachers, travel to neighboring states for work. But teachers can also commute to New Jersey, thanks to a new bill that lifts residency requirements for teachers. This expands the candidate pool and reduces barriers to finding teachers with specialized skills.

With this law, your district can hire Elevate’s vetted, experienced teachers who live outside the state. In New Jersey, we offer 140+ state-curriculum-aligned courses through remote, live teaching in your classrooms.

Improved Working Conditions

Increasing workloads and 50+ hour weeks contribute to teacher burnout and attrition rates. Much of this work includes mountains of administrative tasks that non-certified professionals could take on.

Schools can reduce teachers’ workloads by decreasing the administrative tasks they must do in addition to teaching. Paraprofessionals and other assistants can help support full-time teachers, especially those with large class sizes, significantly impacting teacher burdens.

Enhanced Support for New Teachers

To lower the high attrition rates, new teachers must receive more preparation and support when they enter the profession. Financial support, like signing bonuses, could reduce financial stress when they’re first starting.

Professional support and guidance can also help new teachers learn to navigate the complex school system and better manage their demanding roles. Peer support networks across districts, pairing new teachers with veteran mentors, and similar programs can prevent new teachers from feeling immediately overwhelmed.

Technology and Blended Learning

Modern technology can expand your candidate pool, allowing you to fill more vacancies. Elevate works with districts nationwide to offer virtual, live learning in classrooms. 

All the district has to do is provide a paraprofessional and laptops, and Elevate will find a certified, vetted teacher to livestream classes. Our software is highly interactive, promoting student engagement and positive teacher-student relationships. 

Remote resources can keep schools from resorting to huge class sizes or uncertified professionals. Elevate can provide a qualified teacher with an average lead time of two weeks, offering immediate relief to schools experiencing shortages.

Learn About How Elevate K-12 Can Support Schools This School Year

The teacher shortage in New Jersey is urgent. It’s time to go beyond half-measures and provide solutions that result in positive student outcomes. 

Elevate is already working with thirteen districts in New Jersey to combat the teacher shortage across core classes, special education, and STEM. With adaptable programs that adhere to your school’s needs and curriculum requirements, we partner with you to support your students and teachers.

Contact us to learn more about how Elevate can help fill your teacher vacancies.

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