A trend before the pandemic
Both Lawrence and Spiller say the attack on educators, at least in New Jersey, began more than a decade ago when the then governor. Chris Christie regularly verbally targeted teachers and the NJEA.
“You can’t criticize people politically … for ten years straight and expect people to want to be in this profession,” Lawrence said.
Spiller credited the former governor with being “ahead of the pack in terms of attacking public workers, but especially public education.”
“His challenge there was to try to demean the profession,” he said. “The first thing he did when he took office was tell people, ‘vote against your school board budgets, don’t support your schools, don’t fund the school. “”
New advocacy groups have sprung up in New Jersey and across the country seeking to elect more conservative candidates to school boards, though the elections are technically nonpartisan and generally sleepy races. It’s a consequence of more parents getting involved in board meetings as discussions have turned to masking and vaccines.
“You can’t miss the fact that these meetings are more contentious now,” Spiller said. “You can’t miss the fact that some people get a small number of individuals and call educators by name and say they are harmful or call them slanderous things.”
Superintendent Meloche, at Cherry Hill, said the pool of teacher candidates has become shallow over the past two years.
“There are fewer students getting into education right now at the college level,” he said.
The number of teacher candidates fell below 3,000 in 2018, according to the New Jersey Policy Perspective, a level not seen in two decades. Additionally, the state’s colleges and universities produce far fewer teachers than the rest of the country.
The State Board of Education recently held a public meeting to consider several proposals to make it easier to become a teacher in the Garden State, including replacing testing requirements with more rigorous proctoring.
There was also an effort in the last session of the legislature to remove teachers from a residency requirement that was passed in 2011 for civil servants.
Lawrence said it would be “easy” to remove the residency requirement for hiring teachers.
“I graduated from high school in Philipsburg, New Jersey, which is in northwest Jersey,” he said, noting that the city “is basically a stone’s throw away. of Easton, Pa. “You cross the river and you can’t hire someone who lives in Easton, right on Front Street…unless they move. What if it was a Spanish teacher, for example.
Overall, Lawrence believes there should be a state-level initiative to make the profession attractive to potential applicants, especially minority applicants.
Spiller says the NJEA is in conversation with people in education to come up with ideas to inspire people to become teachers and stay in the profession.
“I think we hear a lot of creative ideas,” Spiller said. “We have a lot of people talking, ‘hey, can we offer bonuses to entice people to come'”, for example.