The teacher shortage is growing across the country, with far more teachers leaving the profession than entering it.
This gap – which has been widening over the past decade – has gotten worse since the COVID-19 pandemic and is even larger in subject areas that require teachers to have additional credentials.
Rutgers Today spoke with Nora E. Hyland, associate dean & faculty director of teacher education with Rutgers-New Brunswick's Graduate School of Education, about the causes leading to the teacher shortage and possible solutions to alleviate it.
Can you quantify the need for teachers in New Jersey? How does the percentage of those entering the profession compare with that of those exiting the profession?
The gap in the state is difficult to quantify, however, we know that about 4,700 teachers retired between August 2019 and 2020. That doesn't account for other reasons teachers left the field, so the total loss is much higher. During the 2019 year, the state issued about 5,000 initial teaching licenses through both the traditional and alternate routes. Ten years ago, the state issued twice as many licenses in a given year. This gap has become extreme in certain licensure areas: special ed, science, math, ESL, bilingual ed, world languages, and career and technical ed.
What factors led to the teacher shortage?
There are many factors that have exacerbated this shortage. They include low pay, challenging workplace demands, loss of autonomy due to top-down mandates, increasing and costly demands for entering the profession, increasing demands on teachers in the profession, and of-course COVID-19 and the related stress of that experience.
What solutions do you see to this problem? How can the public school system entice more students to become teachers?
Reducing some of the redundant and irrelevant barriers to entering the profession would likely help. Prospective teachers take A LOT of mandated costly tests and assessments that are not predictive of classroom success. I think schools and districts would be well-served by trusting teachers and engaging them on educational decisions. Schools might also think about career pathways for teachers and a pay scale that allows for teachers to afford New Jersey.
Was there ever an Alternate Route boom? Do you see Alternate Route as a possible solution to the current teacher shortage? Why or why not?
Alternate Route has always been an option for entering the profession. I don't think there has been a boom. In part, because most schools want well-prepared teachers who require less support than many Alternate Route candidates. Alternate Route requires schools to take a chance on someone with only 50 hours of training. This means that the bulk of the preparation of Alternate Route candidates happens on the job. This can work out well in some cases but can also be a challenge – especially for schools and districts that are already facing major challenges and increasing demands. I think Alternate Route should always remain an option, although I can imagine more creative and effective ways of preparing teachers that represent a hybrid between traditional and Alternate Route pathways. Some of those models are emerging, like teacher residencies, but there are many untapped possibilities as well.