A classroom crisis could be on the horizon.
Around the country, schools are having trouble hiring teachers. Experienced professionals are leaving the classroom environment for other fields or choosing to retire early.
To add to the problem, fewer students are interested in pursuing the education profession after college than in years prior. At the same time, demands on teachers are now higher than ever before, experts say.
“As the economy recovered, demand has sharply risen as schools begin to reinstate classes and programs that were reduced or eliminated during the Great Recession,” said Leib Sutcher of the Learning Policy Institute, who co-authored a September study on teacher shortages. “This was a dramatic shift from the years of teacher layoffs, and many districts were surprised to find that they were having trouble hiring teachers.”
According to the policy institute, the demand is being driven by a 17 percent gap between the weekly wages of teachers and the pay of comparable workers.
In 2015, classrooms across the United States were short about 60,000 teachers, and that shortage is expected to grow to 100,000 by 2018, Sutcher said.
A rising student population, shrinking pupil-teacher ratios, and high teacher attrition are helping to drive the shortage, he said.
The problem affects not just administrators but students, Sutcher said.
“When schools can’t find a qualified teacher, districts can cancel courses, increase pupil-teacher ratios, or hire underprepared or substitute teachers,” he said. “This in turn exacerbates the problem because these underprepared teachers leave at more than twice the rate than those who are fully prepared.”
NJ hunts for teachers
Between 1990 and 2004, New Jersey reported no teacher shortages, and educators say competition for positions is still fierce in the state, where teachers are among the highest paid in the nation at an average salary of $69,038. But in the past 10 years, the state has experienced shortages in certain subject areas and in certain school districts, according to the Department of Education.
New Jersey was looking for teachers in particular subject areas, including special education, science, math, English as a second language and world languages for the 2016-17 school year, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Schools in Asbury Park, Keansburg and Seaside Heights were among schools across the state reporting a need for teachers.
Dawn Hiltner, a spokeswoman for the New Jersey Education Assocation, the state’s largest teachers union, said there is a serious morale issue affecting the profession.
“I think we’re losing a lot of really great teaching candidates because they’re thinking, ‘I can’t afford to teach,’” she said.
Recent graduates are walking out of college with $30,000 or $40,000 in debt, Hiltner said. In addition, teachers are taking home less money in their paychecks because of higher pension and health care contributions when compared with earnings five years ago, she said.
“Of any profession, we want to attract and retain the best people,” she said. “You want the people who are graduating at the top of their class to go into public education… the most creative, the most dedicated, but the reality is they need to pay their bills. They need a place to live and to eat.”
Other careers have also lured away many aspiring teachers.
Julia Moroney, 34, of Toms River spent four years submitting resumes for teaching jobs throughout Central Jersey after she earned her master’s degree from Monmouth University in 2006.
“I actually couldn’t even get interviews,” she said.
Moroney was competing against hundreds of applicants for each job open in the area, she said.
Moroney said she is now making more money with 10 years’ experience in marketing than she would earn as an entry-level teacher, even with a master’s degree.
While some states have an oversupply of teachers and others are facing shortages, pension rules and license requirements make it difficult for teachers to cross state lines to work, said Darling-Hammond of the Learning Policy Institute.
Unable to find a local teaching job or move to a state that needs teachers, “many of them quit at that point,” she said.
To compound the problem, the number of teachers needed in public schools is expected to rise 14 percent between 2010 and 2021, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. To fill those positions, schools across the country need to hire more than 300,000 new teachers each year. By 2021, schools will need to hire about 384,000 new teachers to keep up, according to the NCES.
With fewer students interested in entering the field, experts worry that rising demand will make hiring harder in the future.
“Until our citizens recognize the importance of great teachers and their contributions as is done in other countries, we shall see this trend continue,” Anne H. Gallagher, spokeswoman for the New Jersey Association of School Administrators, said in an email. “When educators are afforded the respect and rewards that other professions now receive, we will see this trend reverse.”