Taking a leadership role in reversing the growing teacher shortage across the nation, the Teacher Education Advocacy Center (TEAC) at Montclair State partnered with the New Jersey Future Educators Association (NJFEA) to host the NJ Future Educators Conference. The daylong, January 9 event was designed to support high school students’ interest in becoming teachers.
“There is an estimated current shortage in the United States of approximately 64,000 teachers,” says Montclair State TEAC Director Carolina Gonzalez. “This number is projected to increase to as many as 112,000 teachers by 2018.” The shortage, which is due in large part to a decline in students entering teacher preparation and education degree programs, is particularly severe in areas such as special education, STEM disciplines, and in low-income communities. In addition, there is a lack of diversity in today’s teaching workplace.
The NJFEA Conference introduced 425 high school students in grades 9-12 from 31 New Jersey schools and their teachers and counselors to the career of teaching through a program of presentations and breakout sessions led by some of New Jersey’s top educators.
Montclair State alumnus Gemar Mills ’05 delivered the keynote address titled “I Save Lives Daily.” As principal of Newark’s Malcolm X Shabazz High School, Mills was dubbed “The Turnaround Principal” after saving the failing school from closure by the state. Since 2015, he has served as chief education officer of The Future Project, a New York City-based nonprofit focused on reinventing the structure of the nation’s high schools and unlocking student potential. He advised the conference’s future educators to “use your pain to push yourself to greatness.”
Students could choose to attend sessions that featured a conversation with Argine Safari, the 2016-17 New Jersey Teacher of the Year, as well as presentations by Montclair State faculty, alumni, students and partnering school districts. Session topics ranged from “Being Leaders, Teaching Leaders” to “Apps & Technology for Learning in the 21st Century.”
According to Gonzalez, the conference was an ideal forum for educating future teachers and providing them with pre-professional networking opportunities to engage and interact with peers who share similar career goals.
“The shortage of teachers in our country is a serious issue, and events like this conference are the types of steps needed to reverse the trend,” explains Gonzalez. “In keeping with the TEAC mission of diversifying the teaching profession, we coordinate experiences such as this to help pre-collegiate students – especially those from underrepresented groups – enter the teacher education pipeline and get a jump start on their goals.”