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We need to remove, not increase, barriers to the classroom for teachers of color

photo of article author
Jasmine Lane
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.


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Comments (17)

  1. Submitted by David Lundeen on 04/08/2019 - 10:30 am.

    I agree and disagree with the author. As a former teacher, 99% of teacher training does not adequately prepare teachers for the classroom.

    However, I strongly disagree with the implicit assumption that diversity among the teachng ranks will close the achievement gap. It won’t. Rather, we need a greater push for instruction and training based on credible and proven means of instruction (not a fraudulent pedagogy like differentiation). Additionally, our schools have supplanted the goal of teaching students and shifted to appeasement whether through behavior or phones.

    If schools can’t make this simple fixes, it doesn’t matter who is in the classroom. Serious attention and critical review needs to be assigned to principals and administrators.

  2. Submitted by Pat Terry on 04/08/2019 - 11:04 am.

    What a grotesquely dishonest article. The loosening of the license requirements is all about Teach For America and other corporate education “reform” nonsense. Not this.

    • Submitted by Joe Schantz on 04/09/2019 - 01:09 pm.

      This is a mean spirited comment that unnecessarily diminishes her entirely valid lived experiences. Sure, they’re are bigger issues at play, but that doesn’t change the fact that the system is not working for her or teachers that look like her.

      • Submitted by Curtis Senker on 04/09/2019 - 05:13 pm.

        So, the secret to fixing the public schools is to custom tailor it according to how someone looks.

        Sounds legit to me.

    • Submitted by Joe Nathan on 04/10/2019 - 04:24 am.

      What this teacher is arguing for – retaining the current state laws re teacher licensure – has been endorsed by the Minnesota School Boards Association, the Minnesota Rural Education Association, the Association of Metropolitan School Districts and Minnesota Association of school administrators – among others.

      This is NOT “lowering” standards” – it is improving access to teachers that school districts find to be excellent!

      Legislators would be wise to listen.

  3. Submitted by Curtis Senker on 04/08/2019 - 05:09 pm.

    In a singularly odd commentary, peppered with non sequiturs and circular reasoning, this quote stands out:

    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.

    Is the author suggesting that “her communities” children need a separate public school system? Or is she in favor of tailoring the entire system to the, evidently, unique needs of that community?

    Bizarre from start to finish.

    • Submitted by Joe Schantz on 04/09/2019 - 12:47 pm.

      Wow, that’s a stretch! I think she’s saying teacher prep programs gave us the educational system we have, one that produces predictably bad outcomes for communities of color, and insisting that it’s the one and only way to demonstrate teaching ability isn’t helping the situation.

  4. Submitted by Joe Nathan on 04/09/2019 - 09:13 am.

    Having earned a teaching as well as administrator’s degree in Minnesota, and having taught for a number of years, I strongly agree with Ms. Lane.

    Growing evidence shows that having a more diverse group of educators will help increase achievement of students of color. Incidenta

    lly, organizations that AGREE with Ms Lane and are urging that changes NOT be made in state policy re teacher licensure, include the Minnesota School Boards Association, Minnesota Rural Education Association, Minnesota Association of School Administrators, and Association of Metropolitan School Districts.

    More information about this situation is available here:

    • Submitted by David Lundeen on 04/09/2019 - 10:40 am.

      You’re wrong. While it is important to have teachers who look like the students, it’s more important to have teachers who know how to teach. That includes the elimination of administrative required teaching strategies like differentiation.

      • Submitted by Joe Schantz on 04/09/2019 - 12:32 pm.

        What part of his comment is wrong? I don’t see where he implied that teacher diversity is more important than anything else. You say yourself that ‘it’s important to have teachers who look like the students’; why if not to improve academic outcomes?

        • Submitted by Curtis Senker on 04/09/2019 - 03:09 pm.

          To the contrary. He, and the author suggest black kids cannot learn from white teachers.

          • Submitted by Joe Nathan on 04/10/2019 - 04:17 am.

            At no point in my comment – or in the original article, was the assertion that “black kids cannot learn from white teachers.”

            There WAS, however, research presented about the value for African American students of having at least SOME African American teachers. Research has found that African American students who have at least one African America teacher in elementary school are more likely to graduate from high school and enter some form of college or university.

            The research is based on more than 100,000 students in North Carolina. It’s summarized in this NPR story (yes I read the original study which affirmed what NPR said).

        • Submitted by David Lundeen on 04/11/2019 - 11:47 am.

          Well Joe, every part of it is wrong. I did say it is important to have diverse teachers. We live in a pluralistic, multicultural society, and exposure to this is important. However, much of that is out of school’s control. They certainly can hire teachers of color, but, as demographics on MDE’s website show, the vast majority are still white. As such, schools have no ability to influence how people choose a career.

          That leaves schools with a problem. There faculties are largely white, and most student bodies are increasingly diverse. I know teachers of color can relate to students in some ways better than I could. But, school is still the teaching of objective knowledge using proven pedagogical techniques. All teachers, need to be properly trained in such, and be given realistic expectations. Instead, this issue has been framed as such that it’s way for Administrators and other higher level educators to shift learning responsibilities from themselves, and further burden teachers, and them assign them the blame.

          More emphasis needs to be put on what can be done now in the classroom. It’s time that Administrators face certain accountability for student performance. After all, they set the school culture and are paid more. I’ve sat through a lot of Administrators in my classroom, and their reviews are worthless, and the teacher evaluation criteria needs drastic alteration. They come in for 3 visits and just talk about the single lesson. Not once do they ever ask for bigger things – like using data, aligning to state standards, or rigor. It’s generally an unimaginative group in the administrative ranks – Michelle Rhee would be the worst.

          • Submitted by Joe Nathan on 04/11/2019 - 06:58 pm.

            David no disagreement that many administrators do not do their jobs well. there are huge problems with the preparation of school administrators.

            But schools can and in some cases have done a great job of encouraging students of color to become teachers
            * They’ve started future teacher clubs
            * They’ve started college in the schools courses where students can earn free college credits and learn about careers in teaching
            * They asked current teachers of color to encourage students to consider teaching.

            • Submitted by David Lundeen on 04/12/2019 - 10:07 am.

              That’s a good thing Joe. However, that will take years to turn out teachers of color, and for those teachers to gain experience in the classroom. It’s difficult to be a great teacher in your first few years, it takes lots of time.

              Rather, schools need to focus on the present, and the factors they have more direct influence on. I’ve sat through a lot of interviews with administrators who couldn’t give specific answers about phones, technology in the class or rigor, yet they expected perfect answers from me. Just another example of administrators willing to throw teachers under at any opportunity.

              As an administrator what’s your policy on phones in the classroom?

  5. Submitted by Joe Nathan on 04/10/2019 - 04:20 am.

    For those who want to read the original of the study to which I referred, here is a link:

  6. Submitted by Daniel Sellers on 04/11/2019 - 02:35 pm.

    Thank you, Jasmine, for sharing your story. It is a powerful example of the harm that current legislative proposals could do by pushing excellent, diverse educators across Minnesota out of the classroom.

    Under Minnesota’s old teacher licensure system, completion of a traditional, Minnesota-based teacher preparation program was the only viable route to a permanent license.

    Thankfully, tiered licensure creates multiple pathways for teachers with master’s degrees, classroom experience, and positive teacher evaluations to enter and advance in the profession.

    Unfortunately, the current Minnesota House proposal would eliminate these pathways, undermining teachers who are already demonstrating effectiveness in the classroom and stripping school leaders of the flexibility to hire and retain the educators they need.

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