May 3, 2019

Changes to Tiered Licensure Would Push Me Out of Public Schools

By N'Jai-An Patters

There’s been plenty of talk, and disagreement, about proposed changes to Minnesota’s new tiered licensure system: some people say the House education bill would push great teachers out of the classroom, others say it wouldn’t. What I can tell you, unequivocally, is how it would impact me: a Tier 2 teacher, with three post-secondary degrees, years of classroom experience, and more.

At a time when Minnesota students need more great teachers, and more diverse teachers, the House’s education bill would force me—an experienced, highly qualified, successful black educator—out of the public schools I want to be in.

MY UNUSUAL PATH TO TEACHING HAS MADE ME A BETTER TEACHER

In 2002, I moved to the Twin Cities to pursue a doctoral degree in history at the University of Minnesota. Once I got my Ph.D., I decided that I wanted the primary focus of my professional life to be teaching rather than research. I used the pedagogical training that I received as a graduate instructor as a foundation to building my skills as a classroom teacher.

Since 2011, I’ve been teaching social studies to middle and high school students in public schools in Minneapolis. Although I completed a traditional teacher training program to receive a K-6 license, I quickly discovered that I’m meant to teach older students. Despite my “official” certification to teach K-6, all of my teaching has been in secondary social studies classes. But, through a combination of mentoring, professional development, and coaching, I am a successful secondary teacher.

My students, the majority of whom have been students of color, English language learners, and eligible for free and reduced lunch, have performed well. Students and their families have responded positively to me, and my performance observations have been consistently “excellent.”

TIERED LICENSURE OPENS DOORS TO GREAT TEACHERS; THE HOUSE BILL WOULD CLOSE THEM

As someone with years of experience as a classroom teacher and evaluating teachers, I can say with absolute certainty that I am a better secondary teacher than I ever would be as a K-6 teacher. But, because my traditional training was for K-6, obtaining permission each year to continue teaching in secondary schools has always been a challenge.

Minnesota’s new tiered licensure system, which just went into effect last year, finally provided me with a straightforward path to permanent licensure in the field in which I actually teach: right now, I have a Tier 2 license, and a path to a Tier 3 license—and eventually Tier 4—so long as I continue to have a positive impact in secondary classrooms. I know that tiered licensure has opened doors for countless other excellent, nontraditional teachers, many of whom are people of color.

But the proposals that passed the House last week, and will now be up for debate in the final weeks of session, would arbitrarily close many of these pathways. For example, the House bill would block Tier 1 and Tier 2 teachers like me from teaching students for two or more years in a row. What’s worse, under the House bill, after six years of teaching at Tier 2, I would have to enroll in a traditional teacher preparation program in order to keep teaching. Ironically, because of my background experience, I have been on degree-granting committees in the very programs that the House bill would require me to enroll in. If that sounds strange, it’s because this bill isn’t interested in experience and effectiveness. It would force me out of teaching —with no consideration how well I’m doing in the classroom.

If the House measures become law, they wouldn’t encourage me to advance in the profession, as some say. They would disrespect me, my experience, and my work, and remove me from public schools altogether. Instead, I would teach in elite, private, college-preparatory schools, where my background and experience are highly valued.

ACT NOW TO KEEP PATHWAYS OPEN FOR GREAT EDUCATORS

The proposed changes to tiered licensure would turn away countless qualified, sought-after teachers. It is my fear that once the profession loses these individuals, we—and Minnesota students—may lose them for good.

Minnesota legislators need to acknowledge that different paths can bring different people to the classroom. I am more interested in knowing if my daughter’s teacher can implement best practices than I am in knowing if she learned those practices in a classroom, at a workshop, through a mentor, or with a coach.

If we are truly committed to closing the achievement and opportunity gap, diversifying our pool of classroom teachers is an important part of the solution. One way to think about this diversity is to create a space for a diversity of experiences and to create multiple paths for obtaining a license, as our current tiered licensure system does.

As the Legislature and Gov. Walz head into final negotiations, I hope they will consider how tiered licensure has made a positive impact for educators like me and the students we teach—and how the House’s proposed changes would have serious, even if unintended, consequences.

Please act now to urge state leaders to keep teachers like me in the classrooms where we belong.