Teacher shortages push schools into virtual instruction


Photo Credit: Photo credit via Katherine Albuquerque

Schools across the nation are going virtual due to teacher shortages. School districts are waiting for Governor Murphy to sign in a law that will improve staffing situations.

By: Katherine Albuquerque, Editor

As the pandemic begins to rise up once again, schools across New Jersey are facing a new problem- teacher shortages. Schools are going virtual because of having a lack of staff, specifically a lack of teachers. 

Teachers are either sick with COVID-19 or are quarantining due to being in contact with someone who has COVID-19. Woodbridge Township School district was one of the many districts to go remote for due to overall staffing shortages. 

Mrs. Hartlieb, American Sign Language teacher explained, “It wasn’t fun teaching ASL virtually but it was nice to see their faces with various expressions.” Hartlieb plans on making the best of going virtual despite the challenges it presents.

Teachers shortages: an Overview 

Teacher shortages have been an ongoing issue since before the pandemic. However, the number of teachers retiring or quitting has increased tremendously since the start of the pandemic. The RAND American Teacher Panel reports that the number of teachers considering leaving their jobs has increased from 24% in March 2020, to 30% in March 2021. Thirty-four percent of teachers fifty-five and older have said they consider leaving or retiring solely due to COVID-19. 

Changing instruction mode at least once a year has caused a 13% point increase in teachers considering leaving. The main factor is also the probability of teachers getting COVID-19. Teachers who think they have a 50% chance of getting COVID-19 are most likely to leave compared to their colleagues.  

As teachers are leaving and retiring constantly, others are contracting COVID-19, causing them to be quarantined and unable to teach. In December 2021, New Jersey reported that there are 4.41 new cases among every 1,000 staff members. This was the highest reported data New Jersey has ever seen. 

The combination of teachers leaving and getting sick are ultimately the causes for these shortages. Tracey Turner-Turano, an English teacher at North Arlington High School, added, “Although I have never felt the urge to leave the teaching profession, I have felt unsafe on a continuous basis since we returned to in-person instruction in October of 2020.”

Mrs. Turner-Turano also added that the district’s efforts to keep everybody safe have been evident. However, ” the misinformation that is being spread regarding the severity and transmissibility of the virus has made it very difficult to enforce the very policies that are put into place to protect all of us.”

N.J. Bill to Solve Teacher Shortages 

To try and ease the impact of teacher shortages, Bill S3685 is waiting for approval from Governor Murphy to sign into law. This bill states that retired teachers will be able to come back to work this school year and next school year. Teachers won’t have to re-enroll in their pension plan. Therefore, teachers would be able to receive both their pension and pay from a teaching position for up to two years. This will leave their retirement benefits unaffected. 

This bill will allow schools to fill open teaching positions, which will be beneficial in specialized or difficult-to-fill subject areas. 

Rules under the legislation are: 

  • 180 days must have passed between teachers’ departure from their former school district before they can return to work there.
  • Retired teachers can work under a one-year contract, which can be renewed for a second year.
  • Retired employees cannot work for more than two years, “unless so approved by the Commissioner of Education as being in the best interests of the school district.”
  • Former employees must have “a bona fide retirement.” They cannot make a prearranged deal with the school district to retire and then return, which would make them get both their pension and a new salary.