Diverse Teachers TCU

TCU faculty members and teachers take part in a staff development day in 2017. The school district (File photo)

Class sizes are growing and becoming more diverse, but teachers, especially teachers of color, are getting harder and harder to find in Minnesota.

But now, new classes are coming to local schools, including Tri-City United, Le Sueur-Henderson, Faribault, Owatonna, Waseca and more, which aim to help students pursue a career in education and encourage young students of color to consider teaching as a profession. It’s a new approach in trying to grow a teacher field, both in diversity and in general.

Grow Your Own

The new curriculum is being made possible from a competitive grant through a state program called Grow Your Own. In partnership with Minnesota State University, Mankato, eight school districts (Le Sueur-Henderson, Tri-City United, St. Peter, Waseca, Faribault, Owatonna, Mankato and Centennial) received $376,000 from the MDE to offer a new class to high school students.

The class, titled Exploring Careers in Education, is a college-level class that will be offered to high school students next year. Within the course, students will not just learn about teaching but a variety of careers in education. Students can earn three college credits transferable to MNSU and also receive hands-on experience.

“Our classes will have something like a student teaching experience,” said Le Sueur-Henderson Middle/High School Principal Brian Thorstad. “When someone is in college, they get to go out and student teach and have that experience. We look forward to offering those types of experiences on a smaller scale.”

Unlike the other districts, Owatonna will be using grant monies to pilot a different course: Introduction to Critical Race Theory in Education. Because the district already has an Intro to Education course, Critical Race Theory was selected as a class that could increase Owatonna’s education career-based offerings. Like the other course, this class will be implemented in cooperation with MNSU and will be worth three college credits.

School districts hope that these classes will create a student-to-teacher pipeline. By offering college credit to high school students, the program intends to give local students a head start at earning their teacher’s license. Creating educational experiences locally may also lead students, particularly students of color, to consider teaching in their communities.

“It’s to recognize that there are viable opportunities for their future careers right here in our community,” said former TCU Superintendent Teri Preisler. “Just like we’ve been doing job shadows and partnerships with our skill trade employers and health services. It’s for students in the educational pathway to explore and experience education as a career and they may then consider coming back into our area … If we are able to attract them to come back at some point to the communities of Tri-City United, that’s a thriving win for everyone.”

Pipeline programs like Grow Your Own have seen significant success in Minnesota. In a 2019 report from the Minnesota Department of Education, 17% of school districts surveyed reported that pipeline programs made a big difference in their efforts to recruit standard licensed teachers, while another 70% said it made some or a slight difference.

Teaching shortages

Finding effective strategies to recruit and retain teachers is becoming more important than ever for schools in Minnesota. More than half of Minnesota schools districts in 2019 reported that they have been receiving significantly less applications and more than 40% see it as a major problem.

“Sometimes you’re not able to fill a position with someone who has all of their licensures, so you need to use variances or work through pathways or other means of licensure,” said Preisler. “We have a reduced pool and you got to move very quickly and sometimes you just want to make sure you have a pool of a size that garners the highest possible quality candidates. We have been fortunate to find high-quality candidates for our positions, but it’s getting harder.”

Preisler mentioned that one of the challenges with recruiting teachers is that public schools often have limited budgets to work with. A district that is reliant on mostly on state aid, as well as an operating levy, has to balance its funding while offering a competitive salary and benefits.

One cause of the shortage is that many qualified teachers simply aren’t teaching. The MDE found that in 2019, more than half of teachers with an active license (52%) were not working in Minnesota public schools.

Shortages also limit the availability of teachers with specialized skills. More than 10% of teachers specializing in subjects like hospitality service, careers like transportation, medicine and manufacturing, computer science, theater and dance, autism, as well as languages, like Chinese, Arabic, Latin and Hmong, are teaching under special permission or out of compliance.

“The number of applicants for each position really depends on what teaching position is posted, some positions get more applicants than others,” said Thorstad.

The Le Sueur-Henderson principal said that while candidate pools have been smaller, in the year since he started his position, the school has been able to find high quality candidates.

“I think, overall, we always want the largest candidate pool possible so that we can select the best of the best from the candidate pool to go through our interview process,” said Thorstad. “Ultimately, that’s what positively impacts students the most is hiring the best of the best to be teachers.”

Teacher diversity

Another goal of the Grow Your Own program is to help more students of color pursue careers as educators. Diversity in teaching remains a major issue all across Minnesota, with student bodies being far more diverse than their teachers.

Between all the MEP districts, 24% of the student body come from diverse backgrounds, while just 2.7% of teaching staff are non-white. At LS-H, 20% of students are non-white, compared to 6.5% of teachers. About 19% of TCU’s student population is non-white, while just 1.3% of TCU teachers are.

“Teachers of color matter for all students, especially students of color,” said Anne Marie Leland, Community Education Director for Faribault Public Schools and the grant writer on behalf od MEP. “Over the last decade, studies have shown the benefits of having teachers of color and the positive impact on students’ academic performance, graduation rates, social and emotional well-being and more students of color indicating their desire to attend and be successful in college.”

But school districts all across Minnesota have found difficulties in recruiting teachers of color. Just 4.2% of teachers in Minnesota are from diverse backgrounds. While classes have grown more diverse, the number of teachers of color in Minnesota has remained stagnant.

Grow Your Own aims to increase the number of people of color pursuing education by giving them an early pathway.

“The conversation that we’re having now and around equity, this is one significant step forward for these eight districts and Mankato in partnership for our students of color,” said Leland.

An MDE survey found that a larger share (9%) of school districts that implemented pipeline programs saw big differences in hiring people of color compared to school districts employing financial incentives, competitive salaries and posting position offerings outside their local areas. About 40% of school districts with pipeline programs reported some or a slight difference in recruitment, but 50% have seen no differences at all.

Retain

Retaining teachers of color is also an issue for school districts. Since 2000, turnover rates for teachers of color have been higher than the turnover rates of white teachers.

A report from Teach Plus, titled “If You Listen We Will Stay: Why Teachers of Color Leave and How to Disrupt Teacher Turnover” surveyed 88 teachers of color on challenges they faced in the workforce. The report, which was cited by Leland in her research applying for the grant, found five significant obstacles teachers of color run into.

First, respondents to the survey reported hostile work cultures where their ideas and contributions were undervalued compared to their white peers. They reported feeling unrecognized for their work and not being given room to adapt lessons to better fit their students. A general lack of support and the high financial and psychological costs that come with being a teacher also contributed to their decisions to leave.

Thorstad hoped that the Grow Your Own program would help create a more diverse workforce, but stated that it would take some time for the effects to be realized.

“One component of this program is that some districts have offered this course in the past in association with other programs such as AVID and I believe they have seen a certain level of success,” said Thorstad. “These are the first steps in addressing these issues with this specific grant. It takes a little bit longer for students to gain interest in the career field of education and then obviously multiple other steps have to happen after leaving this course and leaving this school district … I think it, unfortunately, takes years sometimes before we see impacts of this.”

Reach Reporter Carson Hughes at 507-931-8575. ©Copyright 2020 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All Rights Reserved.

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