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New Jersey Adds a New Tier for State’s Educators: ‘Teacher Leader’

Criteria for designation yet to be determined but move earns praise as big step forward for NJ education

teacher leader

A year ago this month, a coalition of education organizations ranging from teachers unions to teachers colleges announced a slew of recommendations for revamping what it took to become a teacher and what was required in their schooling.

Perhaps the most consequential idea was the proposal to create a new tier of “teacher leaders.”

On Friday, Gov. Chris Christie’s office announced he had signed the bill to create the new “teacher leader” designation, billed as a way for educators to advance in their careers without leaving the classroom.

“The reality is that we know great teachers are already leaders in their schools and communities,” Christie said in a statement. “ But this law honors and recognizes those contributions and designates that leadership in a real way, without making them go outside the classroom to pursue those opportunities.”

There was a certain irony in the announcement, given Christie’s reputation as hardly being the best friend of public school teachers in New Jersey, given his frequent combat with their unions.

Nonetheless, with the unanimous backing of the Legislature, the new law does portend some significant changes for the profession – as well as plenty of questions about what those changes will look like.

Will teachers earned the designation based on experience or course work – or both? What will it mean for colleges offering the new credential? And, of course, will “teacher leaders” make more money?

It may take a while to find out the answers to those questions, as an 11-member committee will recommend those criteria. The final decision will rest with the State Board of Education through what is likely to be a protracted process.

The report released a year ago –titled “Taking Back the Profession” -- recommended that the designation be reserved for teachers with at least five years’ experience and that the position require an additional 12 credits or 180 hours in coursework.

As for compensation, the report backed the likelihood that any extra pay would be individually negotiated by districts and their unions, at least until a statewide norm was established.

The big supporters of creating the new credential applauded the bill-signing and said creating the new position could have a big impact.

“The teacher-leader endorsement is a great step forward for the teaching profession and for New Jersey’s public schools,” said Wendell Steinhauer, president of the New Jersey Education Association, in a statement.

“New Jersey is home to America’s most talented, most effective teachers,” he said. “This law allows those exceptional teachers to advance professionally while continuing to pursue their passion for teaching students."

State Sen. Jim Whelan (D-Atlantic), the bill’s chief sponsor and himself a teacher, said: “A teacher leader is someone who ‘goes the extra mile’ to help not only his or her students but other teachers with less experience to make a profound difference in their students’ lives … This endorsement will further encourage teachers to continue leading the way.”

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