NJCTL aims to address teacher shortage as N.J. school districts begin new year

New Jersey’s advocates for education are now using such terms as “crisis” and “boiling point” to describe the current teacher shortage.

While there has been a documented shortage for some time, it has been exacerbated by early retirements during the pandemic coupled with fewer and fewer college students choosing to become teachers. As a result, school districts are struggling to fill the ranks with qualified personnel for the 2023-24 school year.

Many school districts are turning to the nonprofit New Jersey Center for Teaching and Learning, which has developed specific, low-cost strategies to address shortages of teachers in science, mathematics and computer science. Since 2009, NJCTL has produced nearly 500 math and science teachers. In 2017, it transitioned all its courses and programs to be online and asynchronous; in 2020, it was licensed as a graduate school of education.

“This summer, NJCTL continued working with school districts across New Jersey to fill urgent vacancies to ensure instructional continuity for the coming school year,” NJCTL Executive Director Robert Goodman said. “We offer effective, affordable ways to address both immediate and long-term STEM teacher shortages.”

Marybeth Landis, the math supervisor at Essex County Schools of Technology in Newark, said there was a time when she would get 30 resumes for one advertised position.

“Now, we’ll advertise a math or science position in April, and three months later, we have only five candidates — and most wouldn’t have the right qualifications,” she said. “It’s like a tug of war. Not only do we have a hard time getting qualified candidates these days, but many of our existing teachers are retiring or being recruited by other districts who offer them bonus pay.”

NJCTL has been a tremendous resource, she said, helping promising candidates quickly pass the Praxis and earn an endorsement. The school has also had current staff go through NJCTL’s endorsement programs to help fill positions.

“We’ve had biology teachers get physics endorsements, and physics teachers get chemistry endorsements,” Landis said.

As part of the NJCTL “Leave Replacement Program,” school districts provide their students access to NJCTL’s online courses so they can continue learning while the district searches for appropriately certified teachers to cover long- or short-term STEM vacancies. NJCTL instructors grade students’ assessments and labs while also meeting online with them weekly to address any questions or concerns.

This is combined with comprehensive, weekly support for the substitute or teacher who is covering the class.

“The Leave Replacement Program is an effective immediate short-term solution,” Goodman said. “The district provides the course administration and classroom management; NJCTL provides the instruction and staff support.”

Leave Replacement should be combined with one of NJCTL’s three long-term solutions to create a permanent teacher with appropriate certification. While these options take three to six months before the teacher enters the classroom, the district gets a long-term solution.

The three options:

  • Traditional Alternate Route: For candidates who have 30 credits in the subject they would like to teach and have a GPA of 3.0+. It leads to a certificate to teach physics, chemistry, biology or mathematics and a Master of Science in teaching and learning.
  • Shortage Area Alternate Route: This leads to a teaching certificate and MSTL in one of those four subjects but is for those with a bachelor’s degree in any subject, with any GPA. There is no prior background or credits needed in the subject they are to teach; it is all taught within the program.
  • Add-On Endorsement for certified teachers of any subject: This program teaches those candidates the content, and how to teach the content, of a new STEM subject. It leads to an endorsement and MSTL to teach one of the four NJCTL subjects. Endorsements are also available to teach middle school science or mathematics, with the latter leading towards an MSTL Elementary Mathematics.

Angela Joyner, middle school principal at Foundation Academies in Trenton, agreed that it is especially challenging to staff math and science courses, especially during the pandemic.

“Through our partnership with NJCTL, we were able to quickly transition to a co-teacher model that ensured our students’ learning continued without a hitch,” Joyner said. “A NJCTL instructor provided content and pedagogical support for the in-class teacher. This arrangement benefited the students because they could seek help from two teachers — one online and one in person — and get the academic support they needed.”

NJCTL also prepares teachers to teach computer science and offers an MSTL Computer Science that should lead towards a teaching endorsement when New Jersey begins offering those certifications in 2027.

It is important to note that NJCTL’s programs are about a quarter of the cost of a traditional college or university; tuition is $180 per credit and there are no additional fees. NJCTL can offer courses and graduate degrees at such a low cost because of the ongoing support of the New Jersey Education Association and the fact that it has no physical campus, debt, or legacy costs; the only expense is for providing staff and curriculum.

“Solid administrator support is crucial throughout this transition, especially when working with staff new to classroom teaching,” Joyner said. “NJCTL provides content support, and administrators offer guidance with classroom management to ensure the classroom environment is conducive to learning.”