The shortage of qualified teachers is a prevalent issue across the country and New Jersey is no exception to this concerning trend.
Suzanne McCotter, Dean of TCNJ’s School of Education, testified on the subject before the New Jersey Assembly Education Committee on Thursday, May 16 at the invitation of Committee Chairwoman Pamela R. Lampitt.
“The shortage of teachers that is endemic in other states has not yet hit New Jersey as an overall crisis, but we can see predictors of that crisis in several key areas,” McCotter said. “While the overall number of K-12 students is increasing, the number of students entering education fields is declining.”
Between 2008 and 2016, Educator Preparation Programs in New Jersey experienced decreased numbers in their teacher preparation programs ranging from 11.48 percent to 77.12 percent according to data from Title II of the Higher Education Act.
“Teachers provide an invaluable service to our community by mentoring our children and inspiring them to achieve great things,” Lampitt said. “Unfortunately, many New Jersey schools are facing teacher shortages in various areas, with some of the deepest shortages in STEM subjects, ESL, and Special Education.”
In her testimony, McCotter also addressed the lack of diversity in certified New Jersey teachers pointing out that 77 percent are female and 84 percent are white.
“Children need up-close models that give them an idea of what they can accomplish and do so they can form their own goals and ambitions,” McCotter testified. “Seeing teachers and leaders in schools who have the same cultural identity as they have allows them to create goals for themselves. Having more teachers of color not only helps to diversify the teaching pipeline, but also to create more diverse workforces in other fields—engineering, law, health fields, and entrepreneurs.”
Lampitt agreed that diversifying New Jersey’s teaching force should be a priority. “It is vitally important that we do more to encourage students, particularly students of color, to pursue teaching certifications and fill the shortages within high demand areas,” she said.
TCNJ is working diligently to help those efforts.
“A key focus of our work is the NJEA-funded Center for Future Educators, which includes a multi-pronged focus on recruiting middle and high school students to consider teaching for a career, increasing the quantity, quality, and diversity of the next generation of teachers,” McCotter said.
TCNJ has implemented several other initiatives aimed at diversifying the teacher pipeline, including bringing groups of middle school students from Trenton to campus for a full day to learn about the possibilities of a college education, creating a position for the Campbell Endowed Chair of Urban Education, and raising money dedicated to alleviating the extra costs of becoming a teacher.
“We need to return to the days when all of us spoke of teaching as an honorable, admirable profession, which any young person could aspire to achieve,” McCotter said. “If we want to change the face of the teaching workforce, we need to make sure it is a career that anyone would be proud to claim.”
— Luke Sacks