Districts throughout New Jersey are still trying to fill teacher slots ahead of September.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, New Jersey has teacher shortages at all grade levels across multiple subjects, including math and science.

At the same time, professionals in the industry don't see the situation improving any time soon. It's not only a challenge to keep people in the profession; there's an obvious shortfall in the number of wannabe educators coming through the pipeline.

"Before where we may have received a hundred applications for a third grade gen-ed teaching position, we now only receive about a dozen," said Thomas Farrell, superintendent of Brick Township Public Schools. "Some specific, more highly-qualified positions that require dual-certification are even harder to fill. Substitutes are hard to find as well."

According to advocates, the coronavirus pandemic worsened a concern that had been growing for many years prior. The challenges already faced by teachers were joined by the struggles of managing a classroom under remote or hybrid instruction, and the constantly changing rules related to safe instruction during a pandemic.

And the students feel the brunt of the situation, they say — years of COVID-impacted learning are compounded by a less-than-ideal teaching roster in certain districts.

"There's still a lot of instability," said Cecilia Zalkind, president of Advocates for Children of New Jersey.

In select instances, schools scrap certain classes because the teaching positions can't be filled. In others, teachers may be pulled from their breaks to cover for a shortfall elsewhere in the school, or students are forced to spend a period in the media center or auditorium of a school because there's no one to fill a role on an extremely shorthanded day.

What can be done to address the teaching shortage?

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"The teacher shortage is real in New Jersey," said Richard Bozza, executive director of the New Jersey Association of School Administrators.

NJASA recently formed a committee to study the issue and provide recommendations to address it, Bozza said.

Ideas such as student loan forgiveness for educators, and teacher bonuses, have received support from advocates.

Newly proposed rules from the New Jersey Department of Education aim to reduce the number of requirements for would-be educators while still preserving the educator standards that students deserve.

The proposals, which likely wouldn't be approved for several months, discuss ways to reduce testing for people in the profession and ways to make it easier for veteran educators to take on new subject areas.

Meanwhile, the New Jersey Education Association is waiting on Gov. Phil Murphy to act on legislation that would do away with the statewide edTPA requirement, which has been described by critics as onerous, costly, and redundant.

"It's sitting on the governor's desk, passed the Legislature unanimously. That's got to get done," said Sean Spiller, NJEA president.

Spiller said New Jersey also needs to move forward with scrapping the requirement that New Jersey teachers live within the state's borders.

"There's no need for that now, when we're trying to take any educator we can get," he said.

Dino Flammia is a reporter for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com

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