My name is Barry Olson, and a career that started in a Nebraska classroom nearly 40 years ago has led me to my current role as the superintendent and high school principal in Blooming Prairie in southern Minnesota.
Many years ago, when I first came to this state, it was challenging for me to transfer my Nebraska teaching license to Minnesota. As it turns out, those same challenges exist today, and they’re now impacting me as a superintendent.
Here’s just one story (of many) about how difficult it is to hire great teachers from other states to work in our district—a story about what these difficulties mean for Blooming Prairie students.
We recruited a talented life science teacher who graduated from a university in Wisconsin with a license to teach grades 7-12 and student teaching experience in both junior high and high school. She moved to Minnesota and we hired her to teach seventh-grade life sciences in Blooming Prairie. She was great. She was more than capable of teaching our kids.
But Minnesota’s Board of Teaching said otherwise. Even though this teacher had the right background and training, had passed all the right tests and was proving herself in the classroom (she began teaching with a temporary license), she was told she would have to complete additional coursework to receive a standard license. The process to get her fully licensed was incredibly frustrating.
I wish I had a plethora of qualified teachers looking for work in my community, but I don’t. In fact, it once took me ten weeks to find a math teacher, and we currently have an early childhood special education position that has been open for five months.
When we don’t have quality educators to fill these positions, or when we can’t retain great teachers who want to teach in our community, our staff and students suffer.
I understand that teacher shortages happen. I understand, too, that according to a new report from the Minnesota Department of Education, in some communities and subject areas, teacher shortages are actually getting worse.
So what I don’t understand is why, as superintendent, I don’t have more authority to say, “This position is open and I’d like to fill it with this teacher from Wisconsin (or Iowa or California), who is experienced and whom I—as superintendent—believe to be the best fit for the job.”
When a quality out-of-state teacher applies for a job in Minnesota, let’s not make their licensure process more difficult than it needs to be. Let’s maintain standards, of course, but focus on the questions that I believe—and suspect most of my colleagues would agree—are most important: Have they demonstrated success in the classroom and competence in their content area? Will they help our students learn?
I fear that the Board of Teaching has taken away some of what principals and superintendents job is: to hire quality people. We know if they are good teachers or not, and we welcome being held accountable for the results of our hires.
My story today ends today not with anger or blame, but with a call to action. Let’s work together to figure out how we can streamline the process for Minnesota schools to recruit and retain quality, experienced teachers from other states.
Let’s not close the door to talented teachers who can help our students succeed. Instead, let’s open the door to the best educators we can find, because in Blooming Prairie and across the state, we need more great teachers for our kids.