Tomorrow's TeachersIt’s hard to imagine that anyone related to the field of education in New Jersey hasn’t worried about the future of the teaching profession during the last year or so. Thanks to our governor, teacher bashing has become an accepted—perhaps encouraged—activity. Despite a mountain of evidence to the contrary, our state’s educators are being told they don’t do a very good job and that they are not worth the salaries and benefits they receive. Raise your hand if you haven’t recently muttered to yourself, “Who would actually become a teacher right now?”

Don’t despair. Thanks to the Center for Future Educators (CFE) at The College of New Jersey, an army of informed and enthusiastic middle and high schools students has set its sights on the classroom.

“I haven’t seen any drop in their passion or any desire to change their plans,” notes Larry Fieber, executive director of CFE at The College of New Jersey (TCNJ). “These kids are able to see past the rhetoric and are looking forward to a rewarding career in teaching.”

The mission of CFE is to inspire, encourage, and recruit high school and middle school students who are considering teaching as a career. CFE especially seeks future educators interested in teaching in high poverty and hard-to-staff schools and/or high shortage subject areas such as math, science, special education, world languages, technology, bilingual, and ESL. Another goal of the CFE is to recruit students from diverse, underrepresented backgrounds to reflect the diversity of student populations. “Most New Jersey districts still do not hire minority teachers proportionate to the increasing number of minority students in schools,” notes Fieber, “and this minority teacher shortage is becoming more acute each year.”

Urban Teacher Academy

Five years ago, TCNJ received federal grant money to be used to encourage students from diverse backgrounds to enter the teaching profession and to attract those teachers to urban schools and hard-to-staff subject areas. Fieber, a retired New Jersey teacher and administrator, used some of that money to sponsor the annual Urban Teacher Academy.

Held each summer at TCNJ, the Urban Teacher Academy (UTA) is offered free to high school juniors who are interested in becoming urban teachers and/or teachers in high shortage subject areas. Last July, 51 students from 25 central New Jersey high schools were selected for this program based on a minimum GPA of 3.0, teacher recommendations, and essays describing why they are interested in becoming teachers in high poverty schools and/or high shortage subjects.

During the UTA, students attended lectures by distinguished TCNJ faculty and New Jersey teachers on child development, gifted and talented programs, classroom management, teaching ESL, multicultural classroom diversity, bullying prevention, how to write a lesson plan, and multiple intelligences. Students took field trips to urban schools, the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen, the N.J. School for the Deaf, the Eden Institute, NJEA headquarters, and the Trenton Boys and Girls Club.

As a culminating activity, UTA students created a one day mini-school under the direction of TCNJ professors, area teachers, and TCNJ undergraduate elementary education majors to try their hands at teaching math, science, and physical education lessons to children from Ewing Summer Camp.

“The UTA was one of my favorite life experiences” said Trenton High School junior Yaritza Corado. “The UTA helped me discover that I want to make a difference as an urban middle school teacher.”

Tomorrow’s Teachers Training

Tomorrow's TeachersFieber also initiated Tomorrow’s Teachers Training, in which high school instructors are trained to teach an elective course targeted for juniors and seniors who aspire to become future teachers. The program is based on the Teacher Cadet Program developed by the South Carolina-based Center for Educator Recruitment, Retention and Advancement. This curriculum is offered in 26 states. Currently, instructors from 140 New Jersey high schools have participated in Tomorrow’s Teachers training.

The primary goal of the Teacher Cadet Program is to encourage academically able students who possess exemplary interpersonal and leadership skills to consider teaching as a career. An important secondary goal of the program is to provide these talented future community leaders with insights about teachers and schools so that they will be civic advocates of education. There is no cost to school districts for training and curriculum materials.

Tomorrow’s Teachers is taught for a minimum of one class period a day for a year or the equivalent of that amount of time in contact hours. It includes three themes: Experiencing the Learner; Experiencing the Profession; and Experiencing the Classroom. A variety of hands-on activities and a strong emphasis on observations and field experiences are provided. Emphasis is also placed on teaching critical shortage subject areas.

“The Tomorrow’s Teachers Class has given my students an opportunity to decide if teaching is the career for them,” notes Mahwah High School teacher Joan Garris. “Our class has provided them with learning about teaching strategies, educational materials, student behavior and even firsthand experiences working with students in our district. I love to see and hear their ‘aha moments’ as [they] squeal with glee to say, ‘This is the job for me!’”

In an exciting development Fairleigh Dickinson University (FDU) has approved offering college credits to juniors/seniors who successfully complete the Tomorrow’s Teachers course. Once district approval is obtained, CFE and FDU have related materials available, including a parent letter, college credit requirements, ethnic codes and instructions, and a registration form.

Future Educators Association

Many of the districts that offered Tomorrow’s Teachers classes also formed chapters of FEA, or the Future Educators Association. Since January 2010, CFE has worked collaboratively with the national Future Educators Association (FEA), state FEA chapter advisers, New Jersey’s colleges and universities, and students to start the N.J. Future Educators Association (NJFEA). Currently there are 40 FEA chapters in New Jersey’s secondary/middle schools. “We hope to double that number this year,” grins Fieber, “and we want to ensure that districts that offer the course connect it to their FEA chapter.”

Working with chapter advisors and officers, the NJFEA:

  • Serves as the hub of a statewide communications network for local chapters.
  • Plans and sponsors annual N. J. Future Educators Association conferences and meetings.
  • Plans annual service projects and preservice teaching activities.
  • Represents New Jersey at the annual FEA international conference.

The first NJFEA student state officers were formally installed in July 2010 and they immediately began to plan the NJFEA Conference at Kean University in October. More than 350 students from 45 New Jersey high schools attended the daylong event. The students and their advisors were treated to 26 workshops, with topics ranging from “The Joys and Challenges of Teaching Science” to “Engineering for Little Hands.”

“You are the future of public education, not just in New Jersey – where we hope you will make your careers – but also for the nation,” NJEA Vice President Wendell Steinhauer told the attendees. “It’s a big responsibility, but I want you to know that NJEA will be with you to support you throughout your career as an educator.”

NJEA hosted NJFEA’s inaugural meeting during its annual convention in Atlantic City this past November. More than 80 student delegates from NJFEA chapters ratified the organization’s constitution and bylaws and attended the presentation, “What Makes a Great FEA Chapter?” by Dr. Jeanne Storm, associate executive director of Phi Delta Kappa International. Students and their advisors also had the opportunity to visit the exhibit floor and hear the keynote address by CNN anchor Soledad O’Brien. Newly elected NJFEA student officers then conducted an afternoon plenary session where delegates developed plans for statewide future teacher activities and service projects.

“Teaching is not just a job but also a calling,” believes NJFEA President Shelby Miller. “I am honored to be NJFEA’s first president, and I cannot wait to see the positive changes our organization is going to make in New Jersey.” Miller is a student at West Windsor-Plainsboro High School South.

Moving forward

Steinhauer was among the first to recognize the natural connection between NJFEA and Student NJEA (SNJEA), the Association’s program for college students. He was integral in arranging an event last December jointly sponsored by these two organizations. “What Makes an Excellent Teacher?” featured a presentation by the current N.J. Teacher of the Year Danielle Kovach, an elementary special education teacher from Hopatcong, Sussex County.

In an effort to enhance children's literacy, NJFEA held a book drive last month as its first service project. Each chapter, as well as Urban Teacher Academy students, future teacher middle and high school clubs, and Tomorrow's Teachers students were invited to participate. The goal was to collect and donate new and/or slightly used children's books to local elementary schools in need of them. These books can become part of the school's permanent library collection, be part of classroom collections, or given to students to take home for their own use.

“We got an excellent response to our book drive and I’m thrilled,” reports Fieber. “It’s important for students to understand the role that everyone plays in building a strong educational community throughout the state.”

Another sign of the growing strength of NJFEA is its nomination of Leilani Bell as a candidate for international president of the Future Educators Association. Bell, a senior at Science Park High School in Newark, serves as the current NJFEA student vice president for community service and special projects. The election will take place at the FEA National Convention in Atlanta later this month.

NJEA to the rescue

Despite all of Fieber’s great work, federal funding dried up over a year ago. But thanks to a collaboration between Fieber and Steinhauer, the CFE was created and NJEA has become the sole funder of all of its programs. Steinhauer convinced NJEA leadership that providing financial support was important for the profession and the Association.

“CFE works to elevate the image of teaching and promote it as a challenging and rewarding career, and current and future educators need that support right now.” he says. “We need to attract exemplary future teachers and support them as they advance toward the profession in high school and college. And, of course, we will continue to advocate for them when they step into the classroom and become members of NJEA.”

NJEA’s Minority Leadership and Recruitment Committee (MLR), which has attracted people from diverse backgrounds to work in public education as part of its charge, has also joined the CFE cause.

“We are thrilled with Larry’s work,” notes MLR chair Maddie Colas. “We want to expand the number of FEA chapters and we hope that FEA members continue to attend the NJEA convention. It’s in New Jersey’s best interests to home grow our teachers and to encourage them to work in our urban schools.”

There are other significant byproducts of teaching middle and high school students about the teaching profession. Every CFE program, from the Urban teacher Academy to NJFEA, encourages youngsters to incorporate college into their future plans. It also improves student achievement by helping them understand the pedagogical underpinnings of their teachers’ lesson plans. “I’ve heard so many stories from students who say ‘I’m going to be a teacher and I’m going to go to this college,’” Fieber says. “And I get e-mails from kids almost every day telling me these programs have really helped them understand the nuances of good teaching.

“The bottom line is this: it is estimated that by 2014 the nation will need 1.4 million new teachers. We can’t wait until then to push people toward the profession. We need to think about tomorrow today—and do something about it.”