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Recruiting SMART teachers

Published (2/13/2009)
By Nick Busse
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A proposal by Gov. Tim Pawlenty to recruit mid-career professionals to teach in K-12 classrooms was heard by members of a House committee.

The governor’s proposal, known as SMART, for “State of Minnesota Alternative Route to Teaching,” would implement a one-year teacher training program with the goal of recruiting mid-career professionals to teach math, science and other disciplines where there are shortages of qualified K-12 teachers.

“The thought is that mid-career individuals have very unique needs that are very different from an 18- to 20-year-old college student,” said John Melick, director of educator licensing for the Department of Education.

Melick presented the governor’s proposal to members of the House K-12 Education Policy and Oversight Committee on Feb. 11. No action was taken.

Under the SMART program, Melick said qualified individuals would attend a summer training program and then be provisionally employed as a teacher while receiving additional training at night and on the weekends. They would attend another summer program at the end of the school year, after which they would be eligible to receive their teaching license. The governor has recommended $500,000 to fund the program.

Jan Alswager, a lobbyist for Education Minnesota, criticized the program as opening the door for unqualified teachers to enter the state’s classrooms.

“It shouldn’t be easy to be a teacher,” Alswager said. “We don’t want people experimenting with our children.”

She warned that the program might compel small school districts to hire unqualified teachers just because they don’t want to go through the trouble of spending another year training a different teacher candidate.

Melick countered that a teacher candidate under the SMART program would be required to attain a license from a higher education institution, just like any other teacher.

Committee Chairman Rep. Carlos Mariani (DFL-St. Paul) said mid-career professionals could be a good source of math and science teachers, especially in an economy where high-tech career fields are experiencing layoffs.

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