Throughout my career as a middle school math teacher—now in its tenth year—I have been passionate about helping my students and supporting my fellow teachers. It is the latter passion that compels me to share my story today, because the long, arduous road to my Minnesota license is not a road any other experienced out-of-state teacher should have to navigate.
After gaining my initial license in Pennsylvania and then teaching in Texas and New York, I am no stranger to the requirements placed on teachers who move to new states. I am so familiar with it, in fact, that I can anticipate what will be asked of me (background checks, fingerprints, etc.) and I know to budget about $500 to cover the necessary expenses. While it was not fun to obtain a new license in Texas or New York, at least the process was predictable, clear and quick.
And at least Texas and New York honored my training and professional experiences, which now include:
- A B.S. in Mathematics and Business from the University of Pittsburgh;
- A 7-12 Mathematics teacher certificate in Pennsylvania, where I completed a teacher preparation program through the University of Pittsburgh School of Education and student taught eighth-grade math for nearly an entire school year in Pittsburgh Public Schools;
- Three years of teaching seventh-grade math in Houston, Texas; and
- Four years of working with students in grades 5-8 in Buffalo, New York public schools.
When I moved to Minnesota, however, to take a job as the Middle School Math Coordinator of Minneapolis Public Schools in July 2012, the process to obtain my license was anything but clear, and didn’t seem to recognize my many years in the classroom.
To be fair, parts of the process were clear. I was told, for example, that I had three years to pass the Minnesota Teacher Licensing Exams (in Basic Skills, 5-12 Pedagogy and 5-12 Mathematics) and complete a Human Relations course and a reading in the content areas course. I passed the tests and completed those requirements within my first two years. MDE provided me a list of acceptable courses from Minnesota programs, and all I had to do was enroll, pay and pass.
But another—and critical—part of my process was woefully unclear. In order to earn a 5-12 math license (when I had a 7-12 license in other states), I was simply instructed to work with a local teacher preparation program to determine what courses I needed to complete. When I spoke with faculty from local programs about this on several occasions, however, I gained no clarity on what that coursework should be.
I called the Minnesota Department of Education for guidance and was told that I would likely need to take a “middle grades methods” course and to student teach in the middle grades. I explained that I student taught eighth-grade and that my methods course covered grades 7 and 8. I was then told that I would likely need to take a methods course that covered grades 5 and 6, though they could not tell me what courses at Minnesota programs would satisfy this requirement.
I mentioned that I had taught my entire career in the middle grades, including working with fifth- and sixth-graders. “Doesn’t my work experience count for anything?” I asked. The reply I received was, “Unfortunately, it does not.”
Many months and confusing conversations later, MDE and local teacher preparation programs could not tell me with 100 percent certainty what coursework I should complete. I was two years and $2,000 into the process and still not fully licensed as a secondary math teacher in Minnesota.
Frustrated by a lack of clear direction from anywhere, feeling unwelcome by the system and discouraged by the process, I finally reached out to a lawyer for help. It was his guidance and advocacy that helped me navigate the process and gain a full 5-12 Mathematics license this past fall—without taking additional coursework.
I tell my story not to complain, but rather to put a face to the arduous process that out-of-state teachers face when they move to Minnesota, regardless of their experiences and backgrounds. I tell my story not to advocate for a “lowered bar” for licensure (part of my job is to help interview and hire teachers, and I want only the highest quality teachers working with our students), but to advocate for transparent, reasonable and streamlined guidelines for the out-of-state teachers whose lives bring them to Minnesota, who have a host of valuable experiences and who just want to teach Minnesota kids.
I tell my story in the hopes that you might sign this open letter to our state leaders, asking that they open the door to out-of-state educators like me.
Nicole is an educator and math specialist with Minneapolis Public Schools, where she oversees curriculum creation and revision, as well as professional development for math teachers and district leaders.