Whether in a St. Louis Park High School class taught by a Minnesota Teacher of the Year, a video produced by St. Paul charter public school students, or upcoming conferences, there’s vital rethinking in Minnesota about careers in teaching. New thinking and concrete action are needed to make teaching more attractive.

Minnesota’s Professional Educator Licensing and Standards Board has stunning research (which can be found online at bit.ly/3wsJ4Y8) showing that changes are needed. It reports that:

— Minnesota has 56,628 active teachers, but 113,986 people hold professional teaching licenses. This means that less than half of Minnesotans qualified to teach are actually doing so.

— “Nearly a third of new teachers leave teaching within the first five years in the profession.”

— 70% of Minnesota districts responded to a question about a shortage of substitute teachers; of those, 88% reported the shortage of subs was having a “significant” or “very significant” impact on their district.

St. Louis Park High School teacher Lee-Ann Stephens, the 2006 Minnesota Teacher of the Year, is working on all this. She offers one of a growing number of classes helping high school students explore teaching. Students stay in the high school and earn both high school and college credit.

Lili Jampsa, a senior, described Stephens’ class as “uplifting, encouraging and useful.” She likes the way Stephens departs from what she called “the deficit model,” which emphasizes students’ shortcomings. Jampsa told me, “This class helps us build on our strengths, which really helps us learn.” Junior Jayden Mitchell says the class is “different from many I’ve taken. We focus on real life problems.” Senior Symone Morrison calls the class “inspiring and empowering,” adding, “This class makes me look at things differently.”

Empowering students is part of Stephens’ plan. That’s an approach to teaching that she and I agree can make teaching much more enjoyable.

In a new video produced by High School for Recording Arts students, Stephens explains: “My job is to facilitate the leadership, not to be the center of the learning. … I am not the smartest one in the room, neither do I want to be, because that puts a heavy burden on me. But collectively, we have brilliance!”

The (free) student-produced video, created with assistance from the Morning Foundation, encourages middle and high school students to consider teaching as a career. You can find it at youtu.be/yQCTrK8Z1oE.

The video represents an approach to teaching that Stephens endorses: Students create materials others can learn from. HSRA has done a lot of this. Their students produced public service YouTube videos under contract with organizations such as Verizon Wireless and the Minnesota Office of Higher Education.

A student who helped produce that video will speak at a June 10-11 conference in St. Paul on “Deeper Learning” (deeper-learning.org/twincities22). Tony Simmons, HSRA’s executive director, formerly an entertainment industry attorney, told me: “The conference theme, ‘The New Power,’ recognizes that cross-sector collaborations between education, business, art and technology can lead to transformative learning for young people that fuels their passions and their purpose.”  New collaborations can help make teaching less stressful and more satisfying.

Making teaching more attractive and effective is Rose Chu’s life work. A former Honeywell engineer and later district public school teacher, interim dean of Metro State’s School of Urban Education and now project director for PELSB, Chu is trying to “elevate, demystify and diversify teaching.” Chu cited a PELSB report showing that the average Minnesota teacher salary for the 2021-22 school year in Minnesota is $67,600 (not including benefits). Chu responds: “Not as high as we’d like, but higher than many realize.” PELSB’s report also shows each district’s average salary (mn.gov/pelsb/board/data). 

More information about Chu’s teacher recruitment and marketing project is here: mn.gov/pelsb/aspiring-educators/recruitment.  

Lars Esdal leads a group that’s creating new opportunities for district and charter educators – via “teacher-led schools” (teacherpowered.org/). More on this in a future column.

Minnesota must do more to attract and retain educators. Fortunately, talented people like Stephens, Chu, Esdal, Simmons and HSRA students are working on this. As an educator who found challenges and immense satisfactions in teaching, I’m hopeful.

Joe Nathan, Ph.D., formerly a Minnesota public school educator and PTA parent, directs the Center for School Change. Reactions are welcome at joe@centerforschoolchange.org or @JoeNathan9249.

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