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Who's teaching in Minnesota? A community expert hits roadblocks to licensure
UPDATED 5:30 p.m., 12/10/2013 - Riverview Elementary leaders have to get creative if they want to meet the unique requirements of the school’s two-way Spanish-English immersion program. Sometimes that means pulling in teachers from faraway Spanish-speaking locales. Other times it means hiring homegrown “community experts.”
This article is part of a series that will examine the requirements Minnesotans must meet to become teachers, the ways in which training programs are changing, and the people they continue to leave out. For related stories, go to Who's teaching in Minnesota? We begin with a set of conversations with staff at Riverview Elementary, a St. Paul school that recently launched a two-way Spanish-English immersion program.
Three of the school’s teachers work under temporary community expert permissions granted by the state. If a school can prove hardship in finding appropriate licensed staff to fill a position, the state may allow an unlicensed individual to teach on a temporary basis. Community expert permissions are valid for one year, after which they may be renewed twice.
St. Paul’s 17 community experts mostly work in immersion schools. In other places, the permissions have been used by schools to hire teachers trained by Teach for America.
Maria Rangel is native to Riverview’s West Side neighborhood and a third-year community expert teacher at the school. When the Daily Planet interviewed her, Rangel was worried she would not earn the license required for her to continue teaching third grade because of a lost computer and a redundant program requirement.
Rangel, like many teacher candidates, was tripping over a fast-changing set of state-mandated requirements.
Licensure programs are now mandated to use the portfolio-based edTPA to assess teacher candidates. Rangel completed the edTPA, as well as all but one of several state skills tests. But to earn her license, her teaching program at Metro State required that she complete yet another portfolio assessment called the eFolio. Programs at the University of Minnesota, for example, have eliminated the eFolio since the edTPA was implemented.
And, unbeknownst to Rangel, Metro State eliminated the eFolio, too, only a few weeks ago.
Read on for a lightly edited transcript of the Daily Planet’s interview with Rangel.
Tell me about how you came to work at Riverview. I understand that your mother worked here for 30 years?
Actually almost 40 years, yeah. She was an ELL teacher, so I, from a very early age, knew I was going to go into teaching. Since I was 12, I helped her out at summer school and came in to volunteer.
I got my job, my permanent job in my own classroom, two years ago. This is my third year in third grade. I was working as a special ed teacher’s assistant at Riverview, and they didn’t have classroom teachers. The turnover is really high. So the principal came to me and asked if I would be willing to take a classroom and informed me about the community expert license. I applied for it and got it.
I was going to school full-time my first year. I took 13 credits and finished my bachelor’s.
So you were teaching full-time and going to school full-time?
Yeah. I was at Metropolitan State in the urban education program, so they do a really good job of having night and weekend classes. I still don’t have my license because of some things that I need to finish up. I was able to finish everything except for a portfolio that is a state mandate.
[Note: The eFolio is not a state mandate. At the time of the interview, Rangel was unaware that Metro State had recently eliminated it as a program requirementI.]
I did the TPA [a portfolio-based assessment Minnesota teacher programs are required to use]. They actually asked me to use mine as an exemplary portfolio. So I was a little perturbed when I asked if there was any alternative to this eFolio, which is basically the same thing, where you have to show that you meet all of the standards of effective practice for student teaching and for your coursework. Last year my computer got stolen, so I have absolutely no coursework whatsoever, and the student teaching that I did was, I used a lot of my own classroom, and then I went into a kindergarten classroom during my prep and taught lessons.
They said no, that I still have to do it. It’s like 1,000 hours of work, which I don’t have anything to use for, so I have to remember what it is that I did.
So you have to record everything you did in your classes?
There are pieces I have to pull out of courses that I’ve taken and say this is how I met this standard. This class, edu402 or whatever, we did this assignment, and that’s how I met this standard.
I asked, well, can I use my teaching that I’m doing currently to show that I’ve met these standards, but they said no, and there was no other alternative.
Professionally, I feel like I’m in a really good place. I feel like my third year I finally know what I’m doing. It’s all really cohesive; it’s making more sense. I’ve also had so much experience. I’m really lucky that way. But I don’t know if I’ll continue because of the license piece, the portfolio. I just feel like it’s not worth my time when I have real students in front of me right now. That’s where I want to dedicate my efforts.
[According to staff at the School of Urban Education, Metro State is still informing students of the elimination of the eFolio requirement.]
What would you do if you didn’t finish?
I’m bilingual. I have a degree. So I don’t know, I would just see what comes up. I’ve never seen myself doing anything other than teaching, so it’s hard for me to imagine.
When do you have to finish the portfolio?
The community expert license is only a year contract. They really don’t want to give them out anymore. I was told that I didn’t have a job at the end of last year, but they couldn’t find teachers, so they retracted that and said, ‘Will you come back?’
Really I would have to have my license by June. But I think even if I did do the portfolio and had it all turned in, they told me during the summer it was 8 to 16 weeks to just process it for the license. So I don’t think that it will happen.
A contact at Metro State assured the Daily Planet that he would send an email to Rangel the very day of our conversation: she was off the hook.
You grew up going to Riverview and your mother taught here. How do you think that influences the way you teach and the way you engage with your students?
I think it makes a huge difference. I’m really able to relate to the kids. I was in ELL classes. Most of my kids, like 90 percent of my kids, are in ELL. Because I am Mexican American, it is for me a top priority that I build in that cultural awareness. I teach Mexican dance in our [after-school] program, and the kids and I are able to really connect and have better relationships because they see themselves in me in some way.
It sounds like this portfolio thing isn’t necessarily guiding your teaching. Of the activities and assignments that you had to do throughout your teacher training, what has been the most useful? What kinds of lessons come back to you when you’re in front of the kids?
I’ve never used a whole lot from what I learned in college. Most of what I found most useful and effective were things that I learned on my own through experience. The one thing that they did do that I learned from, was working in the schools. I had a step up on that from most of my peers. In class we’d hear from people who were astounded when they actually go in and start teaching, because most of the teachers or the people in those classes are not diverse. So it was really an eye-opener for them.
And for me, I think the experience, the volunteering, is what I learned from. Even though I’ve been around education my whole life, I still had no idea what it was going to be like until I got here. I thought I did, but once you’re in here it’s like, oh man. It’s way more than you expect.
What do you think teacher prep programs and the state could do to eliminate barriers that prevent people of color and people who are fluent in a second language from entering the classroom?
I recently read in one of the St. Paul Federation of Teachers’ newsletters that they are looking for avenues for paraprofessionals to get paid time to take classes and get their license. I inquired about that for myself and was told that I had to take personal days. I feel like if they’re going to put teachers on a community expert license and they want those teachers—they’ve asked me back for three years—then it would be helpful to have that support, a sub for a half day so I can go take the test.
Reporting for this article supported in part by Bush Foundation.
© 2013 Alleen Brown