Diversifying the Teacher Workforce with Teach Minnesota

When I was a young kid, I moved to the Twin Cities area (Minneapolis-St. Paul) from Chicago. I went to middle school, high school, and college in Minnesota, and it’s the state I still call home. A lot of people picture Minnesota as a predominantly white state with lots of farms, but I’m someone who grew up in and contributed to the diversity, and I know a different story.

Growing up as a poor kid in the foster system, I went to a ton of schools, and unfortunately, I didn’t have a superb education from kindergarten through eighth grade. In “Willy Wonka” fashion, I got the chance to go to a private high school in South Minneapolis. Suddenly I was immersed in a college prep environment, where the teachers were devoted to ensuring every kid had the option to go to college if they chose. What had allowed me to go to that school was a stroke of luck – but everyone I knew up to that point didn’t have the same opportunity. The more I experienced, the more committed I became to being a leader who could create better educational opportunities for other kids like me.

In the past ten years, the population of the Twin Cities has rapidly diversified. According to the 2020 Census, the seven-county metro area around the Twin Cities has increased the percentage of residents who identify as Black, Indigenous, or people of color (BIPOC) from 24% in 2010 to 31% in 2020. In our schools, however, as the student population has grown more diverse, the teacher workforce has not: many students do not have a trusted adult in their school who looks like them or shares similar cultural norms. But a growing body of research shows that having a same-race teacher can be life-altering for students of color: they are more likely to be referred to gifted and talented programs, less likely to be suspended, and more likely to graduate from high school and attend college.

That’s why I believe Teach Minnesota, the alternative teacher preparation program that TNTP launched this year, has come at a crucial juncture. We’ve created a space for individuals who are right for the students and right for the classroom to find a cost-effective, timely pathway to becoming elementary and Special Education teachers across the state. The Minnesota community is already filled with people who have the potential to be outstanding educators and role models for our students. Perhaps they once aspired to be teachers, but found the traditional pathways weren’t viable for them, due to barriers like the high cost of most teacher preparation programs. Or perhaps they’ve been successful in their careers already but are searching for a deeper sense of purpose and meaning in their work. Bringing more diversity to the front of Minnesota classrooms will give more students the chance to not only get a high-quality education, but also build connections with hometown heroes who believe in them and have their best interests in mind.

As a former principal, I know firsthand that school leaders care about finding teachers who are a strong fit for their school community. They need teachers who can respond to the range of skills and needs in a diverse classroom, whether culturally, academically, socially, or emotionally. Teach Minnesota prepares our Fellows to be culturally competent, agile facilitators of learning and growth for all students. And although the program does help schools and districts of all kinds (public, charter, private, urban, suburban, and rural) address the ongoing challenge of teacher shortages, our goal is bigger: we care about positively impacting students’ lives, and about inspiring (or re-inspiring) the belief in the difference a teacher can make. We are intentional about recruiting teachers who are passionate and willing to do what it takes to respond to the needs of their students. With teachers like these, we believe that we can change the narrative of what’s possible for all kids in our state.

I operate in a spirit of optimism and hope, and I believe that educating children is the most important work a person can do. And from my own lived experience, I know how transformative a high-quality education can be. I’m proud to lead Teach Minnesota so that more students can look up to the front of their classroom and see a person who inspires them, who looks like them, and who enables them to push beyond challenges and grow into their own greatness.

Teach Minnesota is currently accepting applications for the 2023 program. To learn more and apply, please visit the TNTP Teaching Fellows website.

Imali Ariyarathne, seventh-grade teacher at Langston Hughes Academy, stands in front of her students while introducing them to the captivating world of science

Imali Ariyarathne, seventh-grade teacher at Langston Hughes Academy, introduces her students to the captivating world of science.

About TNTP

TNTP is the nation’s leading research, policy, and consulting organization dedicated to transforming America’s public education system, so that every generation thrives.

Today, we work side-by-side with educators, system leaders, and communities across 39 states and over 6,000 districts nationwide to reach ambitious goals for student success.

Yet the possibilities we imagine push far beyond the walls of school and the education field alone. We are catalyzing a movement across sectors to create multiple pathways for young people to achieve academic, economic, and social mobility.

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