How the Teacher Shortage Is Affecting One New Jersey School District (2023)

Shaye Brown is uniquely familiar with the nation’s teacher shortage. About a week into the school year, she learned that her 9-year-old son, who is in a specialized class for students with autism, would not have a full-time teacher because of an acute shortage of teachers at Paterson Public Schools in New Jersey. Instead, a substitute teacher is filling in. And on Sept. 12, she resigned from her job as a special education teacher in the same district to take a better paying job at a neighboring school. She knows her decision will make Paterson’s teacher shortage worse.

“I take being a special educator very seriously, but I have to care for my children,” says Brown, who makes $59,000 per year in Paterson. Her new district, which is about two miles away in Prospect Park, is paying her $4,500 more per year. “I have to live. I have to pay my bills.”

Paterson—where a third of the 26,000 students live below the poverty line—had about double the district’s normal number of vacant teacher jobs at the end of the school year in June. While administrators managed to hire some 150 teachers over the summer, the district still started this school year with 125 open teaching positions, growing to 137 vacancies as teachers left mid-year. The teacher shortage is likely to keep getting worse; Brown’s last day will be Nov. 11.

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The problem in Paterson is reflected in districts across the country. More than half of public school principals reported that their school was understaffed entering this school year, especially for special-education positions, according to a U.S. Education Department survey published Sept. 27. That’s compared to 20% who said they were understaffed before the pandemic. But, like so much of education in the U.S., this problem isn’t affecting all schools equally. Several teachers told TIME they were leaving Paterson for school districts that could pay them better and offered more resources. At least one survey has found that schools in lower-income areas are more likely to have vacancies.

No homework, classes in auditoriums

Meanwhile, students are suffering the consequences. At Eastside High School in Paterson, nearly 600 students are currently enrolled in science classes that lack a full-time teacher, with four substitutes filling in as the school tries to fill five vacancies for science teachers. A spokesperson for the district said the school’s supervisor of science has been uploading lessons and assignments for those students, who receive grades via a virtual learning platform. Some students don’t have a teacher for their science classes at all, and are working on assignments in the school’s auditorium “under staff supervision.” In addition to paying existing staff extra money to cover classes with vacancies, the district says it will soon begin paying teachers a stipend to grade work for classes without permanent teachers.

A month into her senior year at John F. Kennedy High School in Paterson, 17-year-old Abriannie Lima has permanent gym and English teachers, but has a rotation of substitute teachers in three other classes, where she says she has still has received no homework or graded assignments this year. (A spokesperson for the district says classes without permanent teachers have assignments posted online every day.) “It’s hard because it’s my last year. We actually haven’t been in school for almost two years,” says Lima. “Sometimes I just don’t feel like going because there’s no point in going if I have no teachers.”

That’s exactly what worries Brown, who fears her son will fall behind in writing and math without a certified special education teacher.

The pandemic led to some of the biggest declines in academic achievement recorded in the last 50 years and widened the achievement gap between Black students and white students. As schools try to help students catch up, their solutions include small-group instruction and individual tutoring—which are nearly impossible to offer when schools don’t have enough educators. “You’re talking about gaps in learning. We are still suffering from COVID,” Brown says. “I feel like now with the vacancies, we’re never going to be able to catch up.”

Teacher shortage: An unequal problem

While surveys throughout the pandemic hinted at a looming mass exodus of teachers, that hasn’t come to pass. And some experts point out that many school districts have been using federal relief funds to hire more teachers and staff than they had before the pandemic.

Researchers found at least 36,000 vacant teaching positions across the country and at least 163,000 positions that are held by under-qualified teachers, according to a working paper published by Brown University’s Annenberg Institute in August. Their analysis shows the problem varies widely by state. Mississippi, for example, has about 68 vacancies for every 10,000 students. New Jersey—a state that, alongside cities like Paterson, is also home to some of the wealthiest communities in America—has just one vacancy for every 10,000 students, based on data from the 2021-22 school year.

And certain districts are struggling more acutely. Schools serving more students of color and schools in high-poverty neighborhoods reported a larger percentage of teacher vacancies than schools serving mostly white students and schools in wealthier areas, according to an Education Department survey from January. Even before the pandemic, high-poverty schools had about twice the teacher turnover rate of low-poverty schools.

Public school funding in the U.S. depends heavily on property taxes. As a result, districts serving wealthier, white students tend to be better resourced than those serving low-income students and students of color. That’s partially why high-poverty districts, with less money for teacher raises and other resources, are more likely to have teacher shortages right now.

“Even if we provide class coverage, it’s not the same as having your own teacher,” says Paterson Superintendent Eileen Shafer, adding that the district has often dealt with vacancies, but has typically been able to fill the positions before September.

In Paterson, where about 60% of students are Latino and 25% are Black, two-thirds of students are considered economically disadvantaged, according to state data. In New Jersey, state funding makes up much of the local funding gap in poorer school districts—though Paterson is in the midst of contract negotiations with the teachers’ union, which is calling for an increased starting salaries and regular raises.

While teachers have long raised concerns about being underpaid and disrespected, the wage gap between teachers and other professions has grown worse over time. In 2021, teachers earned 23.5% less than college graduates with a comparable education level, a record high since 1996, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

To try to fill the vacancies, Paterson Public Schools is holding two virtual job fairs each month and is planning to prioritize recruiting new college graduates in December and May. The district is also offering a $7,500 bonus to teachers who sign a two-year contract.

But Jess Katz, an English teacher at John F. Kennedy High School, calls the new teacher bonus a “slap in the face” to educators who worked for the district through the height of the pandemic. She recently resigned from Paterson to transfer to another district with better pay and more school resources—including a theater program, which she says JFK High doesn’t offer.

That school also has no teacher vacancies, which means Katz will be able to focus on her own classes without covering for missing colleagues. Once she leaves in November, she says there will only be two remaining English teachers for juniors at her school, when there were once four. A district spokesperson says some classes have been combined to make up for those resignations and said all classes would be covered by someone certified to teach English.

“Half our juniors won’t have what they need in this crucial year before senior year,” Katz says. “My biggest concern is that these kids are not going to be ready for the next phase of their lives.”

So far this year, Katz has been asked to use prep periods to cover for other classes with vacancies, but says she’s not given enough notice to prepare lessons and is sometimes covering math or science classes outside her expertise. She usually takes attendance and supervises students while they work on assignments for other classes.

Katz worries about who will cover her classes when she leaves and whether anyone will be there to teach her juniors about writing their college application essays—something she typically covers at the end of the year. “It puts them at such a deficit, to get into college, to go into any career they want because they don’t have the fundamentals that they need,” she says. “This is a crucial year.”

Katz says her new school is paying her $15,000 more per year. Brown says the pay raise she negotiated was worth the change because she’ll be able to pay bills more easily and afford extracurricular activities for her son.

She’s still hoping Paterson will make changes like regular pay raises that would keep more teachers in the district and stem the shortage. “This is where you really need to invest,” Brown says. “We need a teacher in every classroom. This is not negotiable.”

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How does the teacher shortage affect teachers? ›

Teacher shortages lead to missed or insufficient learning opportunities. There may be a discontinuity in the delivery of instruction, and key concepts may be overlooked altogether. These occurrences limit the educational opportunities that students can and should receive.

How bad is the teacher shortage in NJ? ›

New Jersey Policy Perspective research does show an alarming trend — a rapid decline in the number of New Jersey college students earning teaching degrees. From more than 5,000 in 2011 to about 3,500 in 2020, the research shows a serious shortfall in new teachers available to keep up with future demand.

Why is there a teacher shortage in New Jersey? ›

Shortage worsened by COVID pandemic

New Jersey's teacher shortage began around a decade ago and has been exacerbated by retirements during and after the pandemic, say experts.

Is there really a teacher shortage in NJ? ›

The shortfall is longstanding and driven in part by sharp declines in the number of teacher candidates since the Great Recession and by reductions in the number of college students completing teacher preparation courses or obtaining teaching degrees.

What is the main cause of the teacher shortage? ›

This shortage of workers is due to a number of factors. Among them are pay, working conditions, lack of support, lack of autonomy, and the changing curriculum. The shortage of teachers will inevitably cause a decline in educational standards. The shortage is crucially important to educational outcomes.

How can we solve teacher shortage? ›

5 Strategies to Tackle Teacher Shortages
  1. Boost teacher pay. Raising educators' salaries is one of the most popular strategies states and school districts have used to ease the staffing shortage. ...
  2. Partner with teacher prep programs. ...
  3. Build bottom-up support. ...
  4. Tap into educators' passion. ...
  5. Treat students well.
Feb 10, 2023

Why do NJ teachers have to live in NJ? ›

New Jersey First Law

The New Jersey First Act, enacted in 2011, established residency requirements for most public officers and employees. The rationale is that state workers paid by New Jersey taxpayers should live in the state and pay taxes here as well.

Are NJ teachers required to live in NJ? ›

Per the Department of Education, effective September 1, 2011 in accordance with the “New Jersey First Act,” all employees of State and local government, including school districts must reside in the State of New Jersey unless exempted under the law.

Is New Jersey a good state for teachers? ›

NUTLEY, NJ -- New Jersey ranked 6th on the list of Best & Worst States for Teachers for the year 2022, according to a new study from WalletHub that analyzed the 50 states and the District of Columbia across 24 key metrics. New Jersey and three neighboring states were ranked in the top ten.

Is it hard to get a teaching job in New Jersey? ›

Landing a teaching job in New Jersey today can be quite tough but not impossible. At present, New Jersey is among the states with the highest unemployment rate, and the government typically cuts school budgets at an alarming rate.

Where is the highest teacher shortage? ›

Florida has the highest number of teacher vacancies while Utah has the lowest. Learn where your state falls and how officials are working to combat the teacher shortage.

Why are so many teachers quitting right now? ›

Nearly 75 percent of respondents who cite expectations as a top reason they plan to leave say they have too much work to do each day and that there aren't enough teachers to carry the workload.

How many public school teachers are in NJ? ›


Will NJ teachers get a raise? ›

The Board of Education will vote on the contract at its meeting Thursday at 6 p.m. in School 11. The district raised the starting salary for teachers from $54,700 to $61,000 at the end of 2021 while it grappled with nearly 50 vacancies amid a surge of retirements and resignations.

How long have we had a teacher shortage? ›

Multiple indicators point toward an educator shortage crisis that has been brewing for more than a decade, since the end of the Great Recession in 2009.

What is a fact about teacher shortage? ›

One study found 80 percent of California school districts reported a shortage of qualified teachers for the 2017-18 school year. Nine out of 10 districts maintained that the shortage was worse than the previous school year. But the teacher shortage has hit California hardest in the special education realm.

What state needs teachers the most? ›

According to U.S. Department of Education data from the 2022-2023 school year, Maine is experiencing the most teacher vacancies in special education, math, science, language arts, early childhood, elementary core subjects, art and music, and career and technical education.

Why are teachers struggling this year? ›

This data also suggests that spiking stress levels, student behavior challenges, and a harsh political spotlight have all taken their toll on many American teachers.

How many teachers are leaving in 2023? ›

U.S. number of teachers and educational staff quitting the profession 2020-2023. In April 2023, about 59,000 teachers and other educational staff quit their jobs in the United States.

How much does a teacher make a day in NJ? ›

$563 is the 25th percentile. Wages below this are outliers. $986 is the 75th percentile.

Which district pays the most for substitute teachers in NJ? ›

Highest paying cities for Substitute Teacher in US
  • East Orange, NJ. $193 per day.
  • Paterson, NJ. $183 per day.
  • Plainfield, NJ. $159 per day.

Can you live in one school district and go to another in NJ? ›

All New Jersey students are eligible to become choice students, regardless of where they live in the state. Students may attend a choice school in another district and county, however the school must be in an approved choice district. There are 122 participating choice districts in the 2023-24 school year.

At what age can a NJ teacher retire? ›

Available to members who have at least 10 years of pension membership service credit (but less than 25 years) and who are not yet 60 years of age for Tier 1 or Tier 2 members; or 62 years of age for Tier 3 or Tier 4 members; or 65 years of age for Tier 5 mem- bers, when they terminate employment.

How do I become a teacher without a teaching degree in NJ? ›

Certificate of Eligibility (CE) - Alternate Route

The Certificate of Eligibility (CE) is issued to an individual who has not completed a teacher preparation program but meets the basic requirements for certification, including academic study and applicable test requirements.

What is the average teacher salary near New Jersey? ›

Salaries by years of experience in New Jersey
Years of experiencePer year
Less than 1 year-
1 to 2 years$57,474
3 to 5 years$59,439
6 to 9 years$71,518
1 more row

What is the highest paying school district in NJ? ›

Here are the districts that finished highest, along with their average teacher salaries:
  • Millburn Township School District, $87,061.
  • Livingston Board of Education School District, $86,615.
  • West Essex Regional School District, $83,593.
  • North Valley Regional High School District, $91,517.
Oct 6, 2022

Which state pays teachers the best? ›

1. New York. New York is among the best-paying states for teachers. Reasons include an average annual salary of $92,222 that, although below the state's average income of $107,000, is still more than the salaries paid in other states.

What state pays teachers the lowest? ›

On the other side of the pay scale, teachers, on average, earn as little as $47,156 a year in Hawaii, the lowest-paying state. It may be especially difficult to make ends meet on wages that don't keep up with the state's notoriously high cost of living.

What is the lowest teacher salary in NJ? ›

Entry Level Teacher Salary in New Jersey
PercentileSalaryLast Updated
10th Percentile Entry Level Teacher Salary$32,229May 25, 2023
25th Percentile Entry Level Teacher Salary$39,294May 25, 2023
50th Percentile Entry Level Teacher Salary$47,055May 25, 2023
75th Percentile Entry Level Teacher Salary$57,385May 25, 2023
1 more row

What is the hourly rate for NJ teachers? ›

Salaries by years of experience in New Jersey
Years of experiencePer hour
1 to 2 years$19.28
3 to 5 years-
6 to 9 years$22.48
More than 10 years$25.82
1 more row

Where do teachers get paid the most in NJ? ›

Teachers in the best paying Bergen County district earn more than $40,000 more than teachers in the best paying Salem County district, an NJ Advance Media analysis showed.

What type of teacher is most in demand? ›

Which teaching subject is most in demand? While specific needs vary by institution, science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) are subjects that are always in high demand.

What states have teacher shortages in 2023? ›

As a result, teacher shortages in 2023 could persist. As we head back to school we are already seeing massive shortages in Texas, Nevada, Florida, and Arizona. These shortages are exacerbated by the lack of substitute teachers as teaching jobs remain vacant into the 2023-2024 school year.

Which state has the most teachers? ›

The state with the most public school instructional staff in the 2019-2020 school year was Texas, with 416,892 instructional staff. After Texas, California was the state with the second most public school instructional staff, having 374,003 instructional staff.

Why teachers are quitting 2023? ›

The #1 reason why teachers leave education is compensation. 48% of educators are planning on leaving the field due to compensation, while 42% have already left because of the same reason. Expectations are the second most common reason – 33% plan on leaving while 31% have left due to this reason.

Is teaching a stressful job? ›

Ultimately, many aspects of workplace stress stem from anxiety about being effective at work. Teachers, like many other professionals, want to be effective in their jobs and suffer from increased stress, anxiety, and depression when they know they aren't at their best or are not receiving needed support.

What are teachers doing after quitting? ›

Leadership roles in community service are often a good fit for people who've left the teaching profession. Many youth organizations and retirement communities have positions for people skilled at planning, coordinating, and leading fun recreational or educational activities.

Why is New Jersey number 1 in education? ›

New Jersey has the best state education system in the country thanks largely to the high amount of money it spends on its schools, according to a new national ranking.

Is NJ getting rid of the Praxis? ›

Phil Murphy signed a bill Friday doing away with a state-mandated test for people who want to teach in New Jersey.

Where does NJ rank in public education? ›

In both 2019 and 2020, Education Week ranked New Jersey's schools as the top public-school system in America. In 2020, U.S. News and World Report ranked New Jersey's schools at number two, behind Massachusetts.

How much do retired NJ teachers make? ›

How much does a Retired Teacher make in New Jersey? As of May 29, 2023, the average annual pay for the Retired Teacher jobs category in New Jersey is $37,986 a year.

What percentage of salary is NJ teachers pension? ›

Annual Benefit = 54.5 percent X last year or highest 12 months of salary; or At least 35 years of service at age 55 or older.

What is the retired teacher bill in New Jersey? ›

New Jersey Senate Bill 3798. Bill Title: Permits teacher, and professional staff member who provides special services, who retired from TPAF to return to employment for up to two years without reenrollment in TPAF if employment commences during the 2023-2024 school year.

Why is teacher shortage a problem? ›

Lack of sufficient, qualified teachers and staff instability threaten students' ability to learn and reduce teachers' effectiveness, and high teacher turnover consumes economic resources that could be better deployed elsewhere.

Why do teacher shortages happen? ›

Many schools across the country have been grappling with teacher shortages. The combination of low pay, a strong economy, bitter politics and pandemic burnout have not only driven some teachers out of the business, it's also discouraged some new teachers from getting in.

How did the pandemic affect teacher shortage? ›

What this report finds: The pandemic exacerbated a preexisting and long-standing shortage of teachers. The shortage is particularly acute for certain subject areas and in some geographic locations. It is especially severe in schools with high shares of students of color or students from low-income families.

What are states doing about teacher shortage? ›

The state of California has invested $500 million to attract new teachers, counselors, social workers and psychologists to schools in need through the California Student Aid Commission's Golden State Teacher Grant program.

Why America's teacher shortage is going to get worse? ›

For starters, shortages are occurring because of increased demand on public schools. As of fall 2017, 50.7 million students were attending public elementary and secondary schools, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. By 2025, that number is expected to expand to 51.4 million.

How has the pandemic affected teachers? ›

found nearly 60 percent of teachers report they are burned out , compared to 44 percent of other workers. The National Education Association, the nation's largest teachers' union, reported that more than half of their teachers in 2021 said they were more likely to quit or retire early because of ongoing job stress.

How has the pandemic affected schools? ›

Both the COVID-19 pandemic and economic conditions in California have contributed to significant changes in enrollment in schools across the state. Enrollment dropped by a record 2.6 percent in 2020–21 and an additional almost 2 percent in 2021–22, resulting in a loss of 270,000 students statewide.

How real is the teacher shortage? ›

It's a "crisis" in many districts. Others have more success filling positions. More than three-quarters of U.S. states are experiencing a teacher shortage, highlighting a growing concern among public education and government officials about issues that were exacerbated during three years of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Why are so many school teachers quitting? ›

Nearly 75 percent of respondents who cite expectations as a top reason they plan to leave say they have too much work to do each day and that there aren't enough teachers to carry the workload.

When did the teacher shortage begin? ›

Multiple indicators point toward an educator shortage crisis that has been brewing for more than a decade, since the end of the Great Recession in 2009.

Why are teachers important? ›

Teachers are the backbone of our democracy – fostering curiosity and creativity, building skillful individuals, and strengthening informed citizens. A great teacher in every classroom is one of the most important resources we can provide students.

Why the demand for teachers has increased? ›

Shortages have been driven by a shrinking teacher education pipeline, high rates of turnover, and increased demand as districts replaced positions cut during the Great Recession and expanded staffing using federal COVID-19 relief funding to address increased vacancies and to support learning needs.

Are teachers on the decline? ›

Interest in the teaching profession among high school seniors and college freshmen has fallen 50 percent since the 1990s and the number of new entrants into the profession has fallen by roughly one third over the last decade. Teachers' job satisfaction, they found, is at the lowest level in five decades.

Are teachers quitting in the US? ›

The majority of educators leaving public education are quitting — not being laid off or retiring. Quits peaked in August 2020, months following the declaration of the Covid-19 pandemic. Note: Chart shows state and local education employees. Other separations include retirements, transfers to other locations and deaths.


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