From the Legislature to the courts to the Office of the Legislative Auditor (OLA), everyone seems to be asking the Minnesota Board of Teaching to streamline teacher licensure, especially for out-of-state educators. After months of delays already, the Board now says that a budget gap is going to “slow everything down.” As an out-of-state teacher who had to spend $20,000 on redundant coursework in order to gain my Minnesota teaching license, I know that aspiring teachers literally can’t afford further delays. While the Board may very well need more resources in order to do its job (and the recent budget agreement at the Capitol does include a funding increase), I believe that more funding alone won’t magically fix the underlying and “broken” licensure system. We need our state leaders to have an honest conversation and take urgent action to really fix that, not to just throw more money at the problem indefinitely.
You would think that after completing a highly selective alternative teaching program, earning a master’s degree in education, being dually licensed in special education and social studies and teaching for eight years in inner-city schools, I would have a clear, reasonable path to my teaching license in Minnesota. Instead, I faced confusion, inconsistency and a huge price tag.
After starting my application for Minnesota teacher licensure in 2011, I received a document denying me licensure for social studies but granting me a provisional license for special education. To gain the professional, renewable special education license I wanted, I was instructed to complete coursework—yet I received no directions on which courses (or how many) I needed to take. I was sent a list of colleges and told to ask them what I had to do.
I contacted the three colleges on the list that had certification programs in special education and received three very different responses. Each school required that I take between 18 to 36 credits in redundant coursework in order to become licensed. One thing they had in common was requiring that I student teach for a semester.
How could this be? Did they not see I had student taught and taught in another state? Did they not understand that I already had a master’s degree in education? Was there any value in the eight years I spent teaching under the direct supervision of principals? Why would I have to retake classes and student teach again just because I was trained in another state? No one could answer these questions.
After nearly five semesters, 16 credits, four exams, 20 hours of classroom observations, dozens of emails and phone calls and nearly $20,000 in tuition, fees and licensing costs, I finally earned my license in special education—but not social studies. I have decided to not pursue the social studies license, even though I spent most of my early teaching career in this field.
I do not believe that more funding for teacher licensing alone would have significantly altered my licensure story, because the underlying system, and lack of clarity and consistency, would have still remained. What I do believe could have made a difference—and saved me and countless other aspiring teachers considerable time and thousands of dollars—is a complete overhaul of teacher licensure, similar to that which the OLA recently recommended.
In particular, I am confident that the OLA’s recommendation for a “tiered” licensing system would remove many of the hurdles I faced. Under the proposed tiered licensing structure, teachers would still have to meet high standards, but there would be a clear path for licensing those who have a different professional experience, including those trained out of state. This system would value classroom experience and provide clarity for teachers and districts. It would also allow districts to fill immediate needs in hard-to-staff areas while providing a clear pathway for the teacher to become fully licensed.
Had a similar licensing system been in place when I applied, I would have been granted the two licenses I earned in another state with the opportunity to renew them every three years. What’s more, I wouldn’t have had to spend $20,000 on redundant coursework, and I suspect the licensing agency wouldn’t have had to spend too much staff time processing my application, since the guidelines would be so clear.
Between Minnesota’s growing teaching shortages, indications that the Board is slowing down work that needs to be sped up and the OLA’s strong recommendations, the time is right to completely rethink how we license teachers. I hope our policymakers and state officials will not lose sight of this much-needed conversation and the critical crossroads our schools, educators and students are facing.
Matt Batesky is a high school special education teacher outside of the Twin Cities. He has worked with students in grades 10-12 for the past three years, teaching academic skills courses, English, United States History and World History. Matt is also a member of the staff equity book club and the school's equity team. Prior to teaching in Minnesota, Matt was a New York City Teaching Fellow, spending eight years in Brooklyn public middle and high schools teaching secondary special education students and general education high school social studies. Matt's passions lie in racial equity, differentiation to meet student needs and culturally responsive teaching.The
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