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Iron Range Educator’s View: We'll be sorry if solution to teacher shortage passes Legislature

There is definitely a teacher shortage in the state of Minnesota. According to a report from the state Department of Education, "Minnesota has roughly 58,000 educators. Every year about 10 (percent) of those teachers leave the profession. And statistics show that 32 (percent) of young teachers leave teaching within their first five years."

On Feb. 27, 2015, the St. Paul Pioneer Press published an article about the teacher shortage. "(School) administrators argue that Minnesota's strict licensing requirements and union rules make it difficult to attract and retain highly effective and diverse teachers," the article stated.

A Jan. 23 article by Minnesota Public Radio stated that, "Lawmakers are responding to a critical report from the legislative auditor last March that called Minnesota's teacher licensure system 'confusing and broken.'"

So, it appears from these two articles as if teacher licensure and the teacher's union are to blame for the teacher shortage.

Ignoring the swelling number of reports about teachers being assaulted in the classroom, ignoring the huge number of teachers leaving the profession each year, ignoring the issue of making our schools safe places for teachers and students, and ignoring the teacher pay issue, this year's Legislature is considering revising the teacher licensure system in order to "fix" the teacher shortage problem.

"Legislators are considering a new 'tiered' system with minimum requirements for an initial (teaching) license followed by additional levels of licensure as teachers gain experience and training," MPR reported.

"We can offer them an initial license based on their experience, get them in the classroom, get them teaching and let the school district assess them," the radio news outlet quoted Senate Education Policy Committee chairman Eric Pratt, R-Prior Lake, as saying. "If they're not working, the local school district can always fire them. They're on probation."

It is my opinion that offering an initial license based on experience will lead to disastrous consequences. It can allow untrained, unproven, and perhaps unfit people into classrooms. It can make guinea pigs of our students. And it can be expensive, stressing the resources of the local school districts.

This is the most insipid idea I have ever seen for solving the teacher shortage problem.

I don't think the present teacher licensure system is "confusing and broken." I think it is designed to protect students from unlicensed and inexperienced people getting into the classroom. Consider this: According to the Minnesota Teacher Confirmation and Licensing Guide 2017, "Once all of the requirements for teacher certification are met, candidates must submit an application for a teaching license." The required documents include completed fingerprint cards for background checks, proof of a bachelor's degree, proof of program completion at an approved teacher-preparation school, completed application for teaching certification in Minnesota, payment of nonrefundable certification processing fee, and proof of passing scores on required examinations.

Yes, the Minnesota teachers licensing application process is rigorous. But it is not designed to be punitive. It is designed to protect our students and to make sure teachers are capable in all respects.

My children have long since graduated from high school. They were well-taught, and they were prepared to continue their education in college. If those of you who have children in grades K-12 remain silent and allow Sen. Pratt's proposal to become law, many of you are going to be sorry — and your kids may be sorry also. For the sake of your kids, speak your mind. Make our legislators devise a different a solution to the teacher shortage, a solution that will not and cannot harm our kids.

Joseph Legueri of Gilbert is a writer, lifelong Iron Range resident, regular contributor to the News Tribune Opinion page and retired educator who taught English and college writing to grades 7-12 for 35 years at Biwabik and Mesabi East schools.