Some College Grads Aren’t Becoming N.J. Teachers. Why? tells the story of Joely Torres’ family teaches. Her aunt, cousin, and older sister are New Jersey teachers.

So when Torres was applying to college her senior year, she majored in education.

Torres is abandoning her plans to become a teacher after witnessing curriculum controversies and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Everyone praised teachers when COVID hit. Now there’s a war on education,” Torres, 23, said. “It’s thankless.”

Torres is one of many recent New Jersey college graduates who studied education but aren’t teachers. Some students are giving up on their plans to teach because of the COVID-19 pandemic, well-publicized fights over race and gender curriculum, and a lack of classroom support.

In New Jersey, teachers have faced controversies over masking in schools, the state’s new sex education curriculum, complaints over how racial issues are taught, and campaigns to remove controversial books from school libraries.

Torres worries about “hyper-politicized” education.

It’s hard for Torres, who earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from The College of New Jersey, to teach in a contested environment.

Some teachers are leaving the profession, and not enough new graduates are replacing them. Many teachers say the last few years have been difficult, says Mark LaCelle-Peterson of the Association for Advancing Quality in Educator Preparation.

I talk with teachers weekly. “This is the hardest year I’ve ever had,” said LaCelle-Peterson, the group’s CEO.

New Jersey’s teacher shortage continues, according to the U.S. Department of Education. State lawmakers have called the shortage a “crisis” Some suggested raising starting salaries or exempting teachers from the state’s residency requirement.

According to a June report from a Trenton-based think tank, fewer young adults want to teach.

The report said New Jersey’s teacher candidate pool has shrunk. The state produced fewer than 3,000 new teacher candidates in 2018-2019, the lowest in 20 years.

Pay for graduates with teaching credentials varies by school district and experience. 2019-2020 median teacher salary was $70,815 statewide. According to state data, the median for all districts and charter schools ranged from $44,258 to $113,869.

Esilona Kristani, 25, is abandoning plans to teach. The William Paterson and Montclair State graduate just finished a year as a substitute teacher for Garfield Public Schools.

Kristani from Garfield plans to become a school guidance counselor.

During her student teaching, district or state officials “constantly” observed her class. Kristani said the pressure limited her teaching.

Kristani: “We were watched once a week.” “It’s cookie-cutter and lacks freedom. It’s lackluster.”

Kristani decided a week before her final student teaching semester.

Larissa Woods, 24, of Waldwick, graduated in 2020, two months after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fair Lawn Public Schools alternated between virtual and hybrid classes when Woods started teaching.

She burned out and considered a new career.

Administrators told Woods they didn’t need as many teachers for September, so they wouldn’t rehire her.

She’s now looking for HR jobs.

Carlos McCray, a professor at Montclair State University’s educational leadership and administration department, says districts should increase teacher support.

If New Jersey’s teacher shortage continues, class sizes will rise, he said.

“It comes down to resources, I think.” Do teachers have the resources to do their jobs well? McCray:

He recommends districts conduct exit interviews with departing teachers to determine what resources would have kept them.

Torres, the recent College of New Jersey graduate who is abandoning her plans to teach, said she has landed a job as a diversity and inclusion program coordinator at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. She moved from Paterson in June.

She hopes to continue teaching there, but not in a classroom.

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