As Minnesota’s achievement gaps grow and the diversity of the teaching force does not, there has been renewed urgency at the Capitol around recruiting and retaining teachers of color. One bill that legislators are considering, however, would take us in the wrong direction: By gutting Minnesota’s new tiered teacher licensure system, House File 1329 would place more arbitrary hurdles in front of aspiring and proven teachers of color, and push many of them out of the classroom.
As a multiracial African-American woman and soon-to-be teacher, I know just how many hurdles aspiring educators, and especially educators of color, face when trying to enter the classroom. We should be breaking down these barriers, not building them back up.
The costs of traditional teacher prep
It is incredibly costly to become a teacher. For example, my 12-month program costs around $25,000 — not to mention the cost of three months of unpaid student teaching. Luckily, I received scholarships totaling $10,000. I was also confident that I’d earn a $7,500 Minnesota Teacher Candidate Grant — which is supposed to prioritize teachers of color — to help cover the costs of student teaching.
But, I didn’t, and was nearly forced to drop out. If I hadn’t been so close to completing my program when I received that crushing news, there’s not a doubt in my mind that I would have had to quit my program. I also know I’m not alone in struggling to afford traditional teacher prep: Nearly 80 percent of my classmates of color had significant funding gaps for the spring semester.
I’m a resilient, hard-working person and despite the multiple setbacks this year, I’ve somehow made it work. On top of my full course load, I’m the only person in my program to also work full-time in K-12 schools — all to become a “fully trained” teacher.
What traditional teacher prep teaches (and doesn’t)
Which brings me to the next set of barriers: what we actually learn — and don’t learn — in traditional teacher prep. I’m working on a license to teach English Language Arts to 5-12th graders, and entered my program hoping to learn the science of reading, explicit models to ensure academic mastery in the classroom, and more.
Have I learned how to teach writing? No. Have I learned how to teach a novel? Not even close. Despite this, I will be deemed “fully trained” simply because I went through a traditional program.
In Minnesota, 68 percent of black fourth-graders can’t read proficiently. How many of them were taught by fully trained educators?
Looking back, I believe my success as a teacher will largely be a result of my time outside of my program: working as a paraprofessional, studying the work of high-performing schools, and my teaching fellowship with Breakthrough Twin Cities, a program that prepares under-resourced students for college success and cultivates the next generation of educators.
More pathways into teaching: a good thing
Because of the barriers to and frustrations with traditional teacher prep, I’m not surprised that many educators, especially educators of color, take different paths to the classroom. In fact, the nontraditional teachers that HF 1329 could push out represent 23 percent of Minnesota’s teachers of color.
I’ve heard the argument that by giving nontraditionally trained teachers a way to stay in the classroom, tiered licensure “lowers” standards for our profession. That somehow, traditional teacher prep is the only way to become a qualified teacher, and that we disrespect people of color when we imply that they just can’t make it through traditional programs.
I believe that teacher training is important, but also that training means nothing when our programs do not actually teach us how to teach. I’ve learned how to think about teaching from my program, but I’ve learned how to teach as a result of my own efforts. Just because you go through a traditional teaching program and are fully trained does not automatically make you a better teacher than someone from an alternative program.
By creating pathways for teachers to stay in the classroom based on whether we’re effective with students — and not just because we’ve survived teacher prep — tiered licensure actually raises standards for our profession. It ensures that dedicated educators can stay in the classroom and invest in our communities.
We disrespect people of color by implying that the only way we can prove our ability to teach is to survive a preparation system that clearly is not designed for us, or for our communities’ children.
If our state leaders want to increase teacher diversity, they’ll invest in getting aspiring teachers of color in front of students in the first place. They’ll also do everything to keep educators of color who are having a positive impact in the classroom, no matter how they got there.
Jasmine Lane is a pre-service teacher in an eighth-grade classroom. She hopes to teach middle school English Language Arts in the upcoming year.
WANT TO ADD YOUR VOICE?
If you’re interested in joining the discussion, add your voice to the Comment section below — or consider writing a letter or a longer-form Community Voices commentary. (For more information about Community Voices, see our Submission Guidelines.)