A new path for teachers

Published 10:04 am Friday, March 18, 2011

Scott Kaplan conducts a math lesson Thursday morning at Ellis Middle School. -- Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

Although legislators have blazed a new path for people who want to teach, local school officials aren’t so sure it’s beneficial.

Gov. Mark Dayton signed into law a bill calling for an alternative teacher licensing method earlier this month. The bill created a temporary license for non-traditional teachers, giving them the same status as regular teachers. An alternative license carries a two-year limit, as opposed to a regular five-year license.

Local school officials say it’s tough for teachers with any kind of license to find a job in the current economy. Whenever a teacher job is posted, officials say they have more than enough applicants.

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“Right now we have four openings in elementary for next year,” said Ron Evjen, Hayfield School District Superintendent. “We have 80 applicants.”

Yet there are still certain jobs, like a Spanish or industrial technology teacher, where there aren’t as many applicants. An alternative licensing method could prove to be more effective in adding subject-specific jobs like those. Rural school districts are seeing a rise in qualified applicants whenever they post job openings.

“We get a lot more applicants than what we’ve been seeing five or six years ago,” said Steve Sallee, Superintendent of Southland and LeRoy/Ostrander Public Schools.

The problem rural school officials have with hiring teachers lies with the inherent difficulties of a small school. The ideal science teacher would know about physical and biological science, and be able to teach a variety of science classes, according to Jerry Reshetar, Grand Meadow, Glenville-Emmons and Lyle Public Schools Superintendent.

“I need one teacher to teach all my science classes,” Reshetar said. “We’re looking for colleges to produce teachers that can teach all the courses in science.”

If a school needed to offer a particular class, alternative licensed teachers would be perfect for the job, according to Reshetar. The downside is teaching positions for a particular class would have to be part-time, given the size of many rural schools.

“The kicker on this for small rural schools is I may need them to teach only one class of chemistry,” Reshetar said.

Those who wish to obtain an alternative license have their work cut out for them, according to the Minnesota Department of Education. Prospective teachers will have to enroll in an alternative licensing program, which would be offered by a school district partnering with a college, university or a non-profit corporation dealing with education that has a Board of Education approved program.

Basic program requirements include at least 200 hours of class time, a student teaching period, and several exams and assessments.

Alternative licensing is set up as a stepping stone to a traditional license, as the alternative license is only good for two years and can be renewed for another year. In addition, alternative licensed teachers have to be recommended by the staff of the school they work at in order to obtain a standard license.

Although a teacher with an alternative license is still considered highly qualified and falls under the legal definitions of other public school teachers, almost every school official said that, given an equal playing field, they would pick a traditionally licensed teacher over an alternative licensed teacher. Since school officials know what kind of work and schooling a traditionally licensed teacher has gone through, a large majority agreed that a traditionally licensed teacher would be preferable in some cases.

“Just because you have the knowledge base doesn’t mean that you’re going to be able to handle a classroom setting,” Evjen said. “I wouldn’t question their knowledge base, but there’s a lot more to teaching than just knowing the subject.”

Every school official agreed that the alternative licensing method gives districts more flexibility when it comes to staffing more specialized jobs, however.

“When we have a position that’s open, we are looking for the best possible person we can find,” Sallee said.

Alternative teachers have another favorable factor in their corner: baby boomers are hitting retirement age, which means more teachers will retire in the next couple years.

“You’re going to see a lot more retirees coming out the school districts, and a lot more jobs are going to start opening up,” Reshetar said. “Then there’s going to be more demand than there is now for teachers.”