Amid teacher shortage and COVID, this is how NJ is training future educators

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When COVID-19 didn’t make face-to-face teaching possible last spring, Joely Torres used his dining room table as a virtual classroom – both for teaching and for learning.

“It was me, my parents and my grandmother all under one roof and I was teaching students from my dining room in Paterson,” Torres said with a laugh.

“I pushed the table into a corner… it was my little corner of the house because the Wi-Fi router was not reaching my room. It was also the easiest backdrop I could find, and I didn’t even think about getting a divider until I was almost done, ”said the 23-year-old aspiring teacher. years old who graduated from the College of New Jersey at Ewing.

Torres was among 171 TCNJ student teachers placed in local schools earlier this year, despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, made worse by the Delta variant.

To become a certified teacher in New Jersey, students must have a bachelor’s degree, complete a teacher preparation program, pass required exams, and complete a minimum of 12 weeks as a student-teacher.

Due to the pandemic, these teaching hours could only be filled for many student teachers in a virtual format during the last academic year. Dealing with COVID-19-related anxieties in the classroom has been one of the factors contributing to the teacher shortage in New Jersey – an issue that predates the health crisis, according to school officials and experts.

But school officials at some of the state’s largest teacher training colleges said the move to online education also offered many positive opportunities.

Fewer people studying to be teachers in New Jersey, according to a 2020 report published by New Jersey Policy Perspective, a non-partisan Trenton-based think tank.

The report showed that students who completed programs to become educators fell 47% between 2010 and 2018. Enrollment in educational programs fell 63% during the same period.

According to the report, the Garden State saw 21,410 teacher candidates enrolled in various preparation programs during the 2009-10 school year – the most ever. In 2017-18, that number fell to 7,590.

The figures reflect what is happening across the country, with an analysis of Statistics from the National Education Center indicating that majors in education represented about 10.1% of baccalaureate applicants in 1990-91. In 2018-2019, this figure fell to 4.2%.

The decline in the number of students studying to become educators has been felt in the classroom. Teacher shortages reported for the 2021-22 school year in New Jersey include science, math, special education, world languages, vocational and technical education, and English as a second language, according to a database from the United States Department of Education.

Mark Weber, education policy analyst at the New Jersey Policy Perspective, said the organization is awaiting new federal data due in October to track the impact of COVID-19 on the state’s teacher pool.

“However, the problems really arose before the pandemic, and it has to do with the pay gap between teachers and other college graduate workers, the erosion of benefits and the lack of respect,” said Weber, noting that, anecdotally, coronavirus-related health issues have declined. teacher morale.

“It’s very reasonable to expect this trend to continue, even through COVID,” Weber said.

On average, a public school teacher in the United States earns $ 61,000 per year, according to the National Association of Education.

The median teacher’s salary in New Jersey was $ 70,815 in 2019-20, according to data collected by the state.

Nora Hyland, associate dean and director of teacher education at the Rutgers Graduate School of Education, said other factors have contributed to the decline in the number of educators such as health issues related to COVID-19 and the lawsuit of the “political controversy and debate around teachers”.

The number of student teachers placed by various New Jersey schools fluctuated from 2019 to 2021.

Ahead of the pandemic in fall 2019, Kean University placed 231 student teachers in local schools. This rose to 322 (largely virtual) in fall 2020 and to 281 student teachers this fall.

In its 2019-2020 academic year, Rowan University placed 389 students. This figure rose to 476 for the 2020-21 academic year. And so far, Rowan has placed 287 students this fall.

TCNJ placed 352 students in 2020 and 347 in 2021, school officials said.

“Our numbers have remained fairly constant over the past few years, despite the fact that overall there has been a sharp decline in the number of students pursuing studies in education,” said Eileen Heddy, director of the office. support for teacher training programs and internationally. student teaching at TCNJ.

“During COVID, placement of students has been more difficult in some ways because teachers are already so stretched and feel pulled in many different directions. A lot of people think they don’t have the time and energy to properly coach a student teacher, ”Heddy said.

Conversely, Heddy said some full-time teachers requested a student teacher because they helped provide individual instruction to students and meet technology needs.

Montclair State University has seen a similar trend. The school placed 340 student teachers in fall 2019, 316 students last fall and 338 students this fall in approximately 30 schools in North Jersey.

“They apply all the theory, skills and knowledge that they have learned being in the real setting of a classroom. It’s a two-way street. They learn from the associate teacher and the students… and they provide a second set of eyes and ears, ”said Caroline Murray, assistant director of clinical placements at the Montclair State University Center of Pedagogy.

For first-year teachers who have completed their teaching hours only online and now need to move to the classroom for in-person instruction, the university has provided resources. This has helped attract new hires and retain current students, they said.

Montclair has also created a “Clinical Readiness Week” for students who will begin their in-person teaching requirements this fall.

As they make their way to classrooms, helping student teachers learn the nuances of health protocols and socio-emotional well-being, said Jennifer Robinson, Executive Director of the Center for Pedagogy. of Montclair State.

“Our students, by nature, who take a virtual education program have a wealth of knowledge and experience around technology. It has also become a very important contribution to the classrooms in which they have been placed, ”said Robinson.

Susan Kandell, associate director of clinical practice and teacher placement at Kean University College of Education, said the school-commissioned student teachers participated in a “service learning project. virtual “.

“He provided set time slots for parents to chat with Kean student teachers for online educational support in case students and parents struggled with content at home,” Kandell said.

Leslie Showell, a pre-kindergarten teacher at Riletta T. Cream Elementary School in Camden, asked prospective teachers to join her virtually last year and starting last week in person.

“I started as a paraprofessional at Cream in 1997 and it is an honor for me to share my experiences with new teachers. They need this hands-on experience, ”Showell said.

Showell noted that there are growing pains regardless of the format.

For virtual learning, Showell focused on communicating with parents who in some cases were unable to meet teachers before the start of the school year remotely due to COVID-19 restrictions. In person, the student teachers were made aware of the requirements of COVID-19 and effective classroom practices, she said.

“You help guide them and the students become independent over time,” Showell said of his pre-K students. “We have to do it with an empathetic heart. They were maybe a year and a half (age) when the pandemic hit. All they know right now is the dynamics of their family at home, so they have to get used to the routine.

Student teacher Joely Torres at the College of New Jersey on 9-15-2021. Torres is among hundreds of student teachers who have spent their hours in New Jersey amid the COVID pandemic.Phil McAuliffe for the time of Trenton

Teaching students online at Joyce Kilmer Elementary School in Trenton wasn’t easy, said Torres, the student teacher at the College of New Jersey.

Building meaningful connections was difficult because students could turn off their cameras during class, she said. The connection with her mentor teacher worked, but it also took time. And the overall strain of teaching and learning in front of the same screen day in and day out could be tiring for the eyes and the brain.

But Torres, who is currently completing her in-person teaching hours at Trenton Central High School, said she took it without hesitation. She said she received help from her family along the way, which is understandable as her sister, aunt and cousin are all teachers as well.

“I think it gave me such a different perspective that so many seasoned teachers don’t have,” Torres said. “As we move forward as we try to be more in person, I hope I get the more normal, non-COVID experiences that I need for my development. But if the pandemic becomes more aggressive to in the future, I will not be a fish out of water. ”

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Steven Rodas can be reached at [email protected].


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