University of Minnesota, Teach for America seek partnership approval, plan would create Minnesota's first alternative teacher licensing program

Minnesota’s first alternative teacher licensing program could begin as soon as June, pending Minnesota Board of Teaching approval of the University of Minnesota’s proposed partnership with Teach for America.

The College of Education and Human Development presented the program to the state Friday, in hopes of getting the new program on the board’s May 9 agenda. Before then, the board and the University’s Office of Academic Affairs and Provost will look over the application and recommend board consideration.

While proponents of the partnership claim it will address systematic problems in Minnesota schools, the partnership has received criticism from some University members and Minneapolis teachers, who say the program undermines traditional teaching pathways and won’t provide adequate training to would-be teachers.

“We need alternative pathways because there are many people out there from all walks of life who may not have chosen to be a teacher as their first route,” said Deborah Dillon, CEHD associate dean for graduate, professional and international programs. “But ... they really want to dedicate themselves to working with young people in schools.”

For students who go to college knowing they want to teach, she said, more traditional methods make sense. But for those who are working as support staff or simply don’t have the time or money for traditional pathways, she said, the new program may be a good fit.

But last summer, the partnership was met with harsh opposition, including a petition from University graduate students claiming TFA programs send underprepared teachers into communities that the state’s education system already marginalizes. The petition garnered nearly 300 signatures, mostly from students, staff and public school teachers.

CEHD graduate student Karen Twyman said she holds three separate teaching licenses and is currently working as a language arts teacher for Minneapolis Public Schools. She signed the petition last year and said she still strongly opposes TFA programs.

“I think they’re well intended,” she said. “But I just think you’re setting [the members] up to fail. It’s a frustration because they don’t have the experience.”

The University’s proposed program consists of an eight-week summer training course, as opposed to TFA’s typical five-week national model. Participants would co-teach with a licensed teacher at a school in Minneapolis’ Northside Achievement Zone while working toward their license through the University.

After completing training, members would teach on their own but still get support and additional coursework through their two-year contract with TFA. At the end of the training, members would have 30 University credits — six credits short of a master’s degree in education.

Under state law, the teaching board must approve alternative teacher preparation programs — like this one — in which teachers receive licenses for a limited time while working toward a standard license. Dillon said that she believes the proposed program is a better alternative licensing model for the state than the national TFA program, because it will provide more in-depth, localized training for aspiring Minnesota teachers.

TFA Executive Director Crystal Brakke said their programming aims to add more teachers of color to schools that aren’t seeing much diversity in the workforce.

Brakke said she consistently hears from schools that want teachers who can relate to their students ethnically, socio-economically and racially. Nationally, about a third of TFA teachers identify as people of color or come from a low-income background, she said.

Twyman said she’s worked for several years gaining proper experience and knowledge to serve schools with marginalized communities, which she says have much different needs than more privileged schools. Five or eight weeks isn’t enough time to learn how to serve those communities properly, she said.

She said the programs also take job opportunities from licensed teachers, who she believes have more experience and training for the job.

CEHD Communications Director Steve Baker said the University has worked with TFA to make the new program as rigorous as possible, and the University wants to provide the best possible alternative training and support for students.

“We will obviously be evaluating and re-evaluating as we do with all of our teacher education programs,” he said. “We’ve got some great partners here, and if the Board of Teaching approves us, we’ll see this as a significant first step.”

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    Kristoffer Tigue's picture
    Kristoffer Tigue

    Kristoffer Tigue is the editor of the Twin Cities Daily Planet.

    (editor [at] tcdailyplanet [dot] net)