Categories: CommentaryNewsState

What We’re Getting Wrong About the New Jersey Teacher Shortage

New Jersey Republican Assemblywoman Michele Matsikoudis wrote yesterday that New Jersey needs “to combat the teacher shortage “head-on” to protect our kids from “overfilled classrooms or fewer academic opportunities due to our state’s inability to find enough qualified teachers.”  

I agree with her sentiment but her substance leaves something to be desired. More importantly, Matsikoudis perpetuates the growing mythology about teacher shortages. Oh, it’s real– I’ve argued that here. But we’re better off ignoring the mantra chanted by Gov. Phil Murphy, NJEA leaders and NEA President Becky Pringle (who tweeted the teacher shortage is a “five alarm crisis“) and getting the big picture right.

Yes, there are real staffing challenges in schools. But that’s largely because the demand for teachers and instructional aides has spiked due to a firehose of COVID stimulus funds (which will run dry in 2024 but whatever). You can’t call it a “shortage” without acknowledging that the number of teachers districts are hiring is far more than they hired before we got all that COVID money. Supply and demand, anyone?

Simultaneously, school enrollment is dropping, probably a combination of parent support for non-traditional options–which has risen substantially after governments unnecessarily closed schools for long periods of time–and a lower birth rate, although the ramifications of this drop in enrollment won’t be visible for a few years. The point is, we’re hiring more teachers for fewer students. That’s probably not sustainable.

And let’s remember we’re in the midst of a kind of workplace revolution, call it the “great resignation” or “quiet quitting” or simply the proclivity of young adults to job-hop. In addition, the unemployment rate across America is staggeringly low. With so many options out there for young people, why would they choose a career path that locks them into a back-loaded salary schedule with little opportunity for advancement? And, anyway, “quit rates in education rose slightly this year, but that’s true for the nation as a whole, and teachers remain far more likely to stay in their job than a typical worker.”

Matsikoudis is right on target when she acknowledges the crisis of learning loss suffered in NJ and elsewhere.  She wisely pushes some easy fixes: Murphy actually signing the bill passed unanimously in the Legislature eliminating an onerous licensing requirement; getting rid of dumb rules like teachers have to live in NJ in order to work here; easing the difficulty prospective teachers have in transferring community college credits to four-year teaching programs. 

Those are great suggestions. But they merely tinker around the edges without acknowledging the cultural shift among younger people  who value job mobility, higher starting salaries, and employee flexibility, and the thirst among parents for non-traditional education options. If we’re serious about rebuilding the teaching career–an imperative, given the true crisis of learning loss— we’ll need major shifts in how we prepare educators and retain them in schools. That will take a more concerted effort than those the suggestions offered by Matsikoudis.

Laura Waters

Recent Posts

BREAKING: New Jersey Is Now the Only State in the Nation That Hasn’t Released Statewide Test Scores (Plus Newark Numbers)

Yet another New Jersey news outlet --the Star-Ledger--is picking up on the the State Department…

1 day ago

NJ Teacher: Scapegoating Teacher Unions Could Lead to Unimaginable Violence

Susan Poage is a New Jersey teacher who resides in Berkeley Heights. Mike Pompeo, the…

1 day ago

Murphy Signs Critical School Security Legislation to Help First Responders Protect Students and Teachers

Governor Phil Murphy today signed bill S2426 into law, requiring all public and nonpublic schools…

1 day ago

LILLEY: NJEA Leadership Funds Gov. Murphy’s Presidential Ambitions with New Jersey Teachers’ Highest-in-the-Nation Dues

The New Jersey Globe reported that the pro-Murphy, dark money Super PAC “Stronger Fairer Forward,” which is run…

2 days ago

OROHO/STANFIELD: State Board of Education Must Stop Hiding Behind Pandemic to Deny Parents Access to Important Meetings

Senate Republicans Call for State Board to Resume Meeting In Person and Allow Public Attendance,…

2 days ago