November 27, 2017

An Open Letter to the Professional Educator Licensing and Standards Board

By Troy Haugen

Dear members of the Professional Educator Licensing and Standards Board:

This morning, as I watched my two oldest kiddos jump on their school bus, my mind went to the incredibly enormous task facing you: You are now responsible not only for the licenses of every current teacher in Minnesota, but also for creating a system that shapes our classrooms for the foreseeable future. You have been charged with implementing what I would argue is the most sweeping education reform of our generation, a real chance to change the status quo to the benefit of students. At least, as an educator and parent, that is my hope.

As you embark on this journey, I hope you will remember why the new board on which you now sit was created: to open doors to more great teachers. Below are some of my humble reflections and suggestions for you in this work.

Great teachers come from all kinds of backgrounds and experiences.

Some of the best, most effective teachers I know did not come through a traditional route of teacher prep. Yet, until now, our system has valued these routes above all others. This approach has benefited those privileged enough to complete a traditional program, and barred from teaching those for whom such a program simply is not possible. Like students, every aspiring educator has unique assets and needs. Instead of insisting that all teachers follow the same path to the classroom, please acknowledge that there are—and should be—many ways to become a teacher.

Rules and regulations should open, not close, doors.

A great teacher is more than a piece of paper. A teaching license, like any other license, does not assure quality; it simply assures minimum competency. The same is true of completing a teacher preparation program, regardless of the type. Frankly, it is impossible to regulate quality as a human condition, and every restriction in rule potentially removes a high-quality teacher from our classrooms. Instead of trying to do the impossible—which has only closed doors to great teachers—I hope you’ll remove barriers for school leaders, so that they can craft their own definition of quality and hire teachers who meet that bar.

Listen.

For too long, we have allowed the loudest voices—often coming from higher education—to shape the conversation on teacher licensure, preparation, and quality. This approach has created a system that assumes that the only way to become a good teacher is through their institutions. It’s time to acknowledge that this isn’t, and shouldn’t be, the only way, and to welcome new voices into the conversation. Please seek out the input of a wide range of stakeholders, including parents, students, school leaders, teachers, and aspiring educators. Listen especially hard to those who haven’t had a seat at the table before. And, remember that those who claim to speak on behalf of the masses generally do not. Be wary of anyone that says they do. Thoughtfully consider their motivation; oftentimes it is simply self-preservation.

Embrace change.

Not only is our current system of preparing and licensing teachers designed to benefit those with privilege, it also isn’t working. Too many teaching positions go unfilled, or filled by teachers who don’t reflect the students in their classrooms, while too many experienced and passionate educators get turned away from Minnesota classrooms. It’s clear that we need real change, and that real change will be hard. We can no longer consider just one solution; we must consider every solution. Please think creatively and act boldly, and resist the impulse to default to the status quo.


My wife and I are parents of four: two already in public school schools, two that will soon enter. We live in rural Minnesota, where Friday night lights are still an important part of the social fabric. Some of our neighbors have lived here, like me, for generations. An increasing number of our neighbors have come from faraway places. Some of our neighbors own fancy things and go to fancy places. Too many of our neighbors struggle to feed their own families. All of our neighbors want the same thing: for our children to have the highest quality experience in their youth so they become productive citizens in the future.

The task before you is huge. I wish you luck and look forward to partnering with you to ensure our children have access to the great educators they need and deserve.

Sincerely,
Troy Haugen
Dad of Ella, Grace, Evan, and Benjamin