Teach for America deserves a chance

  • Article by: TERRI BONOFF and BRANDEN PETERSEN
  • Updated: June 22, 2013 - 5:45 PM

It's not right to place obstacles before those taking an alternate path into the profession.

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Minnesota’s achievement gap is widening, and entrenched interests stand in the way of change. This was evidenced this month at a Board of Teaching hearing when the group waiver for the incoming class of Teach For America members was denied. Placing obstacles before talented and committed new teachers is detrimental to our state’s future and cannot be tolerated.

Two years ago, the Minnesota Legislature passed, and Gov. Mark Dayton signed, a bipartisan bill that provided an entry point for alternative teaching licensure in Minnesota. The Board of Teaching, entrusted with upholding this new law, showed contempt for it instead by denying TFA’s application.

Education Minnesota, the statewide teachers union, has publicly been against not only the 2011 law but, more specifically, Teach for America. Through strong lobbying efforts at the State Capitol, the union has gone to great lengths to thwart the ability of TFA to be part of the Minnesota blend of teachers. Several members of the Board of Teaching members prefaced their June 14 vote by stating: “I stand with Education Minnesota.”

Currently, there are 43 new TFA teachers-in-training down in Tulsa, Okla. These teachers are slated to be in Minnesota classrooms this fall.

Let us put faces to these aspiring teachers:

• Jillian Stockmo grew up in Minneapolis; attended Minneapolis South High School, where she was senior class president and captain of the soccer team, then went on to Amherst College. She chose to return to Minnesota to teach because this is where she wants to make her home and have an impact. Inspired by her father, a public schoolteacher and basketball coach, Jillian writes: “I want to teach with an attention to detail, to notice the little things that are important, like being able to recognize a sluggish student who didn’t eat breakfast or knowing that a simple word of encouragement can make a child feel that they matter. But most of all, I want to join Teach For America so I can address the reality of educational inequality …”

• Mia Clark is a graduate of the University of Minnesota, with a degree in psychology and a minor in neuroscience — she graduated last month with a 3.7 GPA. As a young girl, she was adopted by her grandmother and struggled in school. Mia says about her childhood situation: “I refused to let my zip code affect my learning.” She states that she hopes “to be a role model to all, but specifically to African-American students, because … the kids need to see someone who shares familiarity with them, so they are inspired to learn. My expectations for myself and the kids will be demanding. I want each student, every single day, to walk out of my classroom and be able to say that he or she is much better at math or science than they were the day before. I want every student to pass the state standards, but most importantly, my goal is to inspire a desire of hope, drive and love for learning in my students.”

Leaving these corps members, who are already training in Tulsa, without a path to begin in September is both reckless and grossly unfair to all parties involved. We think the surest way to alter the course we are on is to inform the public. We write this article in the hope that you will lend the power of your voice to this critical issue. Please join us in:

• Letting the members of the Board of Teaching know that we find their contempt for the new law and their attempt to thwart progress deplorable.

• Letting the Minnesota Department of Education know that we cannot tolerate this attempt to undermine the law.

• Asking Education Minnesota and our traditionally trained professionals to give these teachers a chance — to welcome and mentor them.

• Finally, in requesting that Gov. Dayton lead in this delicate but imperative impasse we face. The governor appointed this Board of Teaching, and he alone is responsible for ensuring that its members are enacting prostudent policies within the law.

Let us join together, with strength, and renew our commitment to every child, every family and every teacher.

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Terri Bonoff, DFL-Minnetonka, and Branden Petersen, R-Andover, are members of the Minnesota Senate. Bonoff is chair of the Senate’s Higher Education/Workforce Development Committee.

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