The cover story in last month’s Review described the changing demographics of the teaching profession. In “Goings and Comings,” NJEA associate director of research Mary Ann Jandoli also explained that in addition to Baby Boomers who are retiring, many of the young teachers who fill those positions are also leaving the classroom.

Why do they leave? The organizational factors identified in a range of studies of teacher attrition include a lack of autonomy, a lack of support from administrators, heavy workload or class size, lack of parental support, a feeling of isolation, poor working conditions and salaries, limited opportunities to give meaningful input into decision-making, and limited opportunities for leadership and advancement opportunities. Not surprisingly, the revolving door of new teachers is most pronounced in urban, high-poverty communities. Sadly, the same factors that push new teachers out of the profession are to blame for the growing levels of stress and dissatisfaction experienced by educators who stay.

At a time when schools are blamed and teachers are scapegoated for society’s ills, NJEA is determined to keep young teachers in the profession and support veteran educators. As Jandoli noted, our demographics don’t have to be our destiny. The average starting salary in New Jersey of $51,000 is among the nation’s highest. Leaders and staff are working hard to improve working conditions and give teachers greater control over the profession. In addition, several Association programs are designed to help prepare and support and new teachers.

The New Jersey Student Education Association

Student NJEAMembership in the New Jersey Student Education Association (NJSEA) is open to college students considering a career in education. Dues are only $32 a year, and $20 of each year’s cost (up to $80) is refunded by the NEA when the member begins work as a teacher. The goals of NJSEA are to:

  • Foster leadership through pre-professional opportunities and peer mentoring
  • Promote membership among diverse populations
  • Provide networking opportunities
  • Supplement formal teacher-education training
  • Recruit and retain pre-professional members.

NJSEA members receive virtually all the benefits of NJEA membership, including admission to the NJEA Convention in Atlantic City, liability insurance, the Member Benefits program, subscriptions to NJEA’s publications, half-price admission to NJEA conferences, and more.

Currently, there are nearly 700 NJSEA members, with chapters at 20 colleges across the state.

If you are working with a student teacher or practicum student, or if you know any college students planning to become teachers, encourage them to join NJSEA. More information and online registration.

Support on Site 

Support on SiteEveryone understands the importance of a mentor to a new teacher. But one Camden County school recognized that mentoring—even high quality mentoring—might not be enough to support a struggling newcomer. That’s why then-Camden County Teacher of the Year Marlene Rubin initiated the Support on Site (SOS) program at the Charles W. Lewis Middle School in the Gloucester Township School District in 2002.

The initial purpose of establishing this support group was two-fold. First, C.W. Lewis Middle School hired a large number of novice teachers that particular school year. Second, it was believed that although a personal one-on-one mentor is a valued necessity for a novice teacher, the group support was a missing component of the induction process for new teachers. The support group resulted in so many positive outcomes that the district adopted the program with support from the Gloucester Township Education Association (GTEA).  A facilitator was selected for each of its 11 schools. The participants included all first-, second- and third-year teachers, as well as any teachers new to the district. They were invited to attend 10 monthly SOS meetings.

GTEA President Angel McDermott credits the program with helping new teachers understand that the association is much more than just a union. “The SOS participants see the association providing information, opportunities for professional growth and development, and camaraderie through their meetings,” says McDermott. “Ultimately, they come to understand the association, not the board, provides them with their contract and benefits.”

 Retain Quality Teachers
Erica Guillama, center, and her co-facilitator Nicole Garcia (seated, left) speak with new teachers after a recent SOS meeting in Gloucester Township. Guillama was one of the original participants when SOS was created in 2002.
What did the new teachers think about the program? “SOS has impacted my life in so many ways,” says Gloucester Township music teacher Erica Guillama. “I knew that once a month I had a safe place to go - a place where I could learn from my peers and celebrate successes, but also to vent or talk about a problem I was having.”

Guillama is just one of many SOS success stories. She is an active association member and now serves as an SOS facilitator for a new crop of new teachers.

In 2006 NJEA adopted the SOS program as a statewide new member initiative so that other local associations and school districts could reap the benefits of the successful program. The Association is planning to revamp a version of SOS in 10-15 districts next year in anticipation of a wider rollout in 2014. NJEA is looking for local associations that will institute the program in just one school within the district. If you are interested in bringing SOS to your school, contact your local president who will reach out to your UniServ field representative.

The Priority Schools Initiative

NJEA Priority Schools InitiativeEarlier this school year, NJEA launched its Priority Schools Initiative. Its mission is to empower members of the educational community in selected priority schools. Invitations to participate in the program were sent to districts that had multiple schools identified under No Child Left Behind as “in need of improvement.” Schools that were selected for the NJEA Priority Schools Initiative had to demonstrate a commitment to include all stakeholders in the school improvement process: teachers, parents, ESP, administrators, the local association, the school board, and the broader community. Seven schools were chosen.

A coordinator of NJEA Priority Schools Intervention and Support leads a team of seven consultants who have spent a minimum of one full day per week in their assigned schools to provide guidance and support to their respective school leadership teams. The essential elements of the program are:

  • Development of comprehensive assessments to identify the school-level factors that affect school operations.
  • Templates and protocols to support goal setting and planning.
  • Tools and materials to support reforms that are grounded in research.
  • Comprehensive training programs and on-site support to help staff, leaders, members, and members of the respective school communities implement their identified reform plans.
  • Data collection and analysis protocols to identify the specific causes of school “failure,” documentation of successful changes, and attribution of the improvements in schools to specific actions.
  • Development of a community organizing strategy to build sustained support for implemented changes that show promise.

NJEA understands that true change requires everyone’s participation, especially in communities affected by poverty. This is not about quick fixes and cosmetic changes. The Association is building capacity to help these schools become leaders in providing a 21st-century education.

Teacher leadership

When NJEA created an independent non-profit foundation in 2007, its goal was to empower teachers to be leaders in the transformation of public schools so that all students have access to a high quality education. Since that time, one goal of the New Jersey Center for Teaching and Learning (NJCTL) has been to address the serious shortage of STEM teachers and the limited opportunities for students have to participate in challenging science courses.

To meet these needs, talented NJ teachers developed a robust science curriculum for students, the Progressive Science Initiative or PSI. PSI is based on the advanced placement curriculums in physics, chemistry and biology.  PSI units are freely accessible to anyone on the NJCTL website. PSI pedagogy combines direct instruction and social constructionist strategies and technology to promote new instructional strategies. . The science sequence in high school was also changed to physics, chemistry, then biology – to provide a progressive science sequence leading to high levels of science achievement.

After demonstrating success with students, PSI was used to create new science teachers.  Current teachers with other certifications were recruited to learn physics and/or chemistry using the PSI curriculum.   More than 140 new physics and chemistry teachers have completed PSI certification coursework.

The success of PSI led to the creation of the Progressive Mathematics Initiative (PMI) – a K-12 math curriculum aligned to the NJ state standards and the Common Core.  PMI uses the same instructional strategies as PSI – and is also freely accessible at www.njctl.org.  Teams of teachers provide their talents and expertise to revise and improve PSI and PMI on an ongoing basis. Today thousands of teachers around the world use PSI and PMI every day, attesting to the extraordinary talents of New Jersey’s teachers.

 Student NJEA
 New Jersey Student Education Association members from Fairleigh Dickinson University gather at February's NJSEA conference.
NJEA is also leading another bold effort to expand the teacher leadership movement.  The Association is pursuing new legislation to create a teacher leader endorsement.  The endorsement is a program of study based in part on the national model teacher leaders standards. The program is intended for currently certified effective teachers with at least five years of teaching experience who aspire to take on formal leadership roles in their schools.  Colleges, universities, the NJEA and non-profit groups would be authorized by the Department of Education to offer the program of study.  Teachers could complete the program of study with graduate credit or professional development hours. 

The teacher leader endorsement program will not only provide training to develop the skills necessary to successfully lead school improvement efforts, it will enhance the image of teachers as professionals committed to advocating for students, schools, and the profession.