Beyond tiered licensure: Asking deeper questions about supporting teachers of color

2019 MN Legislature conference meetings are in full swing to reconcile the House and Senate versions of the omnibus E-12 education finance bills (HF 2400 and SF7). The HF2400 includes provisions to modify the state’s new teacher tiered licensure system that only went into effect in October 2018. The tiered system was designed to open up pathways to teaching given certain areas of teacher shortage and the huge racial diversity gap in the teacher workforce.

Much debate is swirling around the proposed changes to the requirements and renewals for Tiers 1, 2, and 3 licensure. Critics say the changes would alter the newly tiered system and make it more burdensome for prospective teachers with non-traditional educational backgrounds to obtain licensing. Proponents say the new bill would “close loopholes” and raise the standards for Minnesota’s teachers.

Of particular interest and passion in the debate has to do with what these changes might mean for opening pathways, or closing them, to teachers of color (TOC). Some concerns about removing pathways to teaching with these new changes may be legitimate, and there ought to be discussions about how they can be addressed at the rule-making and implementation level. Debate is healthy, raising concerns is healthy, and so is working together to address barriers to teaching at all levels—from preparation to placement to opportunities for growth.

Are we asking the right questions?

At MnEEP, advancing  systems change that illuminates the teacher journey—exploring to becoming, to growing and thriving—is essential to our work toward re-imagining a racially equitable education system where educators reflect their students and communities. That’s why we see the debate around it as an opportunity to ask deeper questions about how we can work together to reach the collective goal of increasing and retaining TOC in Minnesota.

First, are we asking the right questions?  Do we have the data and research to back up whatever claims we make?  Have we engaged the teachers who may be impacted? How do we know what we think we know?

And most importantly: How do we balance the need to ease entry pathways and eliminate barriers, while also increasing targeted support, preparation, and continued training in the teaching profession?

In a profession like sports, for example, even if someone is a “natural” and has talent, they still require professional development to refine their craft. This is true in professions from construction to nursing. And this is true in teaching: Having natural professional dispositions does not preclude the need for ongoing encouragement, mentorship and training.

And this is especially true for teachers of color who are entering a classroom, a district, and a system that is overwhelmingly white (96% of teachers in Minnesota are white) and with a curriculum and school climate that often do not reflect let alone support who they are nor the students of color they teach. Furthermore, we want them to be perceived as qualified as their white peers. (Consider the implicit bias that persists in the critique of affirmative action.) We want a system that is willing and ready to set TOC up for success.

What’s more, are we measuring the effectiveness of a teacher on student academic achievement alone? Student achievement is essential—yet the lasting imprint a teacher has on the lives of their students goes beyond a test score.

There is a growing movement in personalized student-centered teaching that supports this. Imagine if we also consider personalized teacher-centered preparation and support, and what that would mean for increasing and retaining TOC in Minnesota.

An opportunity to build better systems to support TOC

We simply need more nuanced discussion about what it takes to support teachers, especially TOC, to grow into and be effective leaders in the classroom and in the community.

How do we continue creating different pathways to enter the profession, and also address the systemic problems that keep TOC from the classroom in the first place?  From disparities in college access and completion, to lack of culturally responsive school/district leadership, unwelcoming school culture, Eurocentric curriculum, and chronic experience of microaggressions, being tuned in to barriers is critical.

Join us in our comprehensive systems change approach to creating and sustaining a racially diverse teacher workforce.  Let’s do this together. We must do this together. Ultimately, it is about our students!

Contact Rose Chu at rchu@mneep.org to learn more about the TeachMN2020 initiative.

Posted in Our Voices, Teachers of Color, TeachMN2020

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 underrepresented communities of color and a passion for social justice.
Posted in Our Voices, Teachers of Color, TeachMN2020

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 underrepresented communities of color and a passion for social justice.
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