2018 Election: Let’s work to elevate the teaching profession

As we look toward the election, and the impact it will have on the future of all Minnesotans, it’s important to ask these questions:

  • What do we teach young people of color about aspirations? About making a difference? About giving back? About the value of work? About their strengths and talents?
  • Most importantly, WHO IS GOING TO TEACH them or the generations to come?  How do we attract more change makers and nation builders to the teaching profession?

Our state demographics are changing. Professions like healthcare and the trades are investing in different ways to attract more people of color and Indigenous people (POCI) into careers. But, we are leaving behind one of the most important and noble careers for affecting real change, teaching. The need for teachers of color and American Indian teachers remains high in Minnesota. With thirty two percent of the state’s student population from POCI, only four percent of the teachers in Minnesota are POCI.

Imagine what we could do if we elevate the teaching profession in the same way we elevate other professions.Think what it would mean for building race equity for our students, for our state and for our nation.

In Minnesota, we still have unacceptable achievement gaps. Many districts are making cuts year after year. Education is barely recognized as a critical part of the robust Minnesota economy. There is a need to elevate all the stages of a teacher’s journey from “Explore”, “Become”, “Grow” to “Thrive”. Currently, teaching is not an attractive profession and most  teachers do not have what they need to feel supported. This is more acutely true for POCI communities.

Minnesota has one of the healthiest economies in the country—but we know it won’t remain that way unless we truly invest in our teachers. Some has said that “The teacher profession is the mother of ALL professions.” Our increasingly diverse student population needs to have more POCI teachers connecting to them in classrooms and curriculum.

In this election season, it’s urgent to think about how our future governor will set the tone about the importance of teaching and teachers in Minnesota. How will he work to invest in our future through our schools? Will he do what it takes to elevate POCI teachers (and educators in general) through public school funding? What changes will he make to support POCI teachers’ journeys, and advance race equity and excellence in education?

We know we can work across sectors and with community stakeholders (students, parents, leaders, etc.) to elevate the teaching profession in the same way other professions elevate their respective fields. For example, we could learn from healthcare and the nursing field, where there are lots of incentives and powerful shifts in narratives to address a previous nursing shortage (housing subsidy, hiring bonus, and higher pay than before, and changing the image of nursing as only female). It is bearing fruit – average nursing salaries are higher than teachers’ salaries and in some states there is a surplus of nurses.

We can do this for our teaching profession; it is critical our elected officials support these efforts. Our POCI students deserve better. Our POCI teachers deserve better. In the long run, ALL students (and teachers) will do better as well. As our late Senator Wellstone said, “We all do better and we all do better.”  

For further reading:

Check out the ImprintU.org website to learn more about what it means to be a teacher in Minnesota and learn more about why it’s so critical that we act now to grow the number of POCI teachers in Minnesota, and support them along their teacher journey.  

Posted in 2018 Election, Our Voices

Rose Chu View posts by Rose Chu

Dr. Rose Wan-Mui Chu is a Senior Policy Fellow for MnEEP, leading efforts to advance the TeachMN2020 Campaign as part of the BBG3 where “Minnesota educators reflect student demographics.” She has an enduring involvement with unrepresented communities of color and a passion for social justice.
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