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It is no secret that schools in Minnesota are struggling to fill teaching positions. According to a report released earlier this year, nearly 9 out of 10 Minnesota school districts report being significantly affected by the teacher shortage — a 20% increase from 2021.
Despite troubles like these, one of the many proposals legislators are considering around teacher preparation and licensure (HF 1224/SF 1477) would make it harder for some dedicated current educators to become fully licensed teachers.
About four years ago, Minnesota launched a "tiered" teaching license system to help open pathways to the profession beyond the traditional pathway. This has helped recruit educators for community technical education, music, special education, languages and other fields. These new teachers leverage existing expertise — that could include a graduate degree, field-specific experience, coursework or previous teaching here or in another state — to provide an engaging and valuable educational experience in classrooms.
Under these current rules, educators on these alternative pathways hold what are called a Tier 1 or Tier 2 teaching license, and they have pathways to advance to longer-term Tier 3 and Tier 4 licenses after years of successful teaching. Along the way, they complete professional development and mentorship programs that help them improve in their profession.
The new proposal is troublesome because, if enacted as is, these pathways to becoming a teacher would be removed. Specifically, to earn their Tier 3 licenses, experienced Tier 2 teachers would have to jump through cumbersome new hoops, or potentially even return to college or student teaching, investing intensive hours or racking up student loan debt to prove their worth in the classroom no matter what education, experience, positive evaluations or credentials they already hold.
As someone who used this alternative pathway, I can tell you after spending five years in the classroom before getting my Tier 3 license, that anyone who chooses that path has earned their licensure. We deserve our Tier 3 licenses because we are committed teaching professionals with years of certifications, evaluations, student outcomes and practical training to prove it.
I am finishing my seventh year as a special education teacher in the Rochester Public Schools, working with students who have emotional/behavioral disabilities, and I am in my first year as a Tier 3 teacher. Those talking down to Tier 2 teachers didn't see the relationships I built with students classified as hard to reach. They didn't see the 41 hours of graduate teacher education courses I completed, that I co-founded an Equity Leadership Team at my school, the time I spent as a technology liaison for my building or all the professional development hours.
Instead, the Legislature and Minnesota's licensing agency are working to take away the licensure pathway I used, indicating that teachers like me, who prove themselves every day, are not worthy of a permanent teaching license.
Last year, I was one of 100 teachers who advanced to permanent licensure in the first year it was achievable by teaching for at least three years and obtaining good evaluations from one's supervisor, students and teacher peers.
Legislators and Gov. Tim Walz are moving fast to close these licensure pathways. I am asking them to keep the pathway open. With teacher shortages throughout Minnesota, it doesn't make sense to make it harder to teach without any evidence that their new barriers will improve teacher quality. Instead, they will be pushing good, experienced teachers out of the classroom.
Instead, they should focus on increasing school funding, lowering class sizes, paying teachers a fair salary and improving the respect of teachers in our communities. These fixes would actually ease teacher shortages. The current proposal tears teachers down and drives us apart.
Anthony Holloway is a special education teacher at Rochester Phoenix Academy.