First alternative teacher prep program in the works

Trainee class
Teach for America trainees attended one of their final classroom lectures in Minneapolis earlier this summer. They're preparing to take over their own classrooms in the Twin Cities this fall. Many of the trainees had been waiting for the Minnesota Board of Teaching to grant a variance to teach without a license, several of which were granted this summer.
MPR Photo/Tim Post

More than two years after Minnesota lawmakers opened the door to quicker routes into the teaching profession, the first alternative licensure program is now being developed.

The University of Minnesota and Teach for America-Twin Cities announced today that they will develop a new teacher training program by next summer. It must be approved by the state's Board of Teaching.

Crystal Brakke, Teach for America's executive director in the Twin Cities, said the new partnership will be good for her group.

"The experience and the research that the university brings is only going to strengthen the preparation and experience that our teachers have," Brakke said.

Teach for America gives recent college graduates who may not have set out to become teachers a summer session of training, before placing them into a classroom in an urban area.

"We're all feeling pretty angry and agitated and ready to dig our heels in for the long haul... We don't want TFA to feel welcome here."

The U of M is promising to make that training more stringent.

University officials will decide who can enter the program, and who will go on to teach. They'll also increase the five-week summer training for Teach for America members to eight weeks, and provide support and training for the students throughout their two-year stint in the classroom.

Trainees will receive college credit while they're learning on the job that they can apply toward a master's degree in education.

"It will be a highly rigorous program where we will hold the teacher corps members accountable for their learning and for their students' learning," said Deborah Dillon, an associate dean who oversees teacher preparation programs at the U of M's College of Education and Human Development.

Assurances that the university will improve the training program haven't eased the worries of Teach for America's critics. They say the group puts under-trained teachers in challenging urban classrooms where students need traditionally trained teachers.

Erin Dyke, a PhD student in the university's College of Education led an effort this summer to thwart the partnership.

"We're all feeling pretty angry and agitated and ready to dig our heels in for the long haul," Dyke said. "We don't want TFA to feel welcome here."

Rob Panning-Miller is a social studies teacher at South High School in Minneapolis, said he doesn't necessarily object to alternative teacher preparation programs, but doesn't like the idea of letting teachers rush into the classroom.

"I don't have a problem with looking at the structures for teacher preparation," said Planning-Miller, a former head of the local teachers union. "I think there's some things that can certainly be done and it is worth experimenting with some different approaches. But this isn't really about different approaches, this is just a shortcut."

Officials of the state teachers union Education Minnesota, who have criticized Teach for America in the past, said they'll be watching the development of the program with interest and are waiting to see more details.

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