November 16, 2013 by Nathaniel Tower
People often ask why I’m not a teacher anymore. I have decided that it is time to publicly answer. For the past nine years, I was a teacher in the Missouri public education system. It surely wasn’t been all roses, but for every kid who threatened to kick me in the balls, there were dozens who showed genuine appreciation of my efforts in the classroom. Of course, there were plenty of bureaucratic negatives that made me wonder if it was ever really about the kids, but it all worked well enough for me.
Four years ago, my wife and I considered relocating to Minnesota for family reasons. In order to continue my chosen career path, I looked into getting my Minnesota teaching license. I figured it would be a breeze. After all, as my advisor had told me in college, Missouri has one of the “strictest certification policies.”
Turns out, it wasn’t strict enough. One class, four ridiculously easy yet time-consuming tests, and about $1500 later, I had a temporary Minnesota license that would last three years. It allowed me to teach 7th-12th grades. During those three years, I had to upgrade my certification to 5th-12th grade. Minnesota apparently doesn’t do an exclusive secondary license like Missouri does.
I looked further into this, asking if I could continue to teacher 9th-12th grades if I did not upgrade my license. I was told not. Even if I don’t ever want to teach 5th or 6th grades? Doesn’t matter. That was the only license they offered in my subject area. What level I wanted to teach wasn’t the issue.
It ended up not mattering in the short run. We stayed in Missouri and I taught for four more years, allowing my Minnesota license to expire. I didn’t want to pay for a few classes on top of what I’d already shelled out, especially if it looked like we weren’t going to need the license after all.
A few years later, we found ourselves in that boat again, and this time the boat was going to sail us straight up the Mississippi. Even though I was already looking into the possibility of a career change, I figured I should work on that Minnesota license as a backup. I’ve heard it’s challenging to switch careers, especially into a creative field.
When I first inquired about renewing my license, I was told I had to take the necessary classes to upgrade the license. I tried to explain the situation to see if they would grant any sort of provisional license. They were unbending.
Fine. I acquiesced. I would take the classes. When I asked what classes I needed, they told me to contact an approved college or university program. I asked for some suggestions. I was directed to a list of colleges on a website.
I contacted three colleges. One never responded. One sent me on a runaround that led me through five people before I realized that I would never get an answer. The third pretty bluntly told me that they didn’t know what exactly I needed. They told me to contact the Minnesota Department of Education.
So I contacted the Department of Ed again, mentioning the above. They told me to contact the colleges for the answer. I requested to speak with a supervisor. She asked for the names of the colleges that I contacted that couldn’t help me. I was not going to participate in a witch hunt, so I didn’t provide the information. I requested the information regarding the classes to take to upgrade. “Contact the colleges,” the supervisor said.
I contacted the third college again and explained what was going on. My contact responded that the Department of Ed could be like that and agreed to contact them for me. He would do it that day and get back to me. Two days later, I called him to inquire how it went. He didn’t have time to call them yet, but he would do it now. A few days later, he still hadn’t done it. I asked once more. No response.
Needless to say, I did not find out what classes I needed to take. A few days later, he finally did respond through email saying that he couldn’t get answers from anyone there. He did however think that I needed to take one particular class that his college was offering sometime in the near future.
I didn’t sign up. I wasn’t going to pay money for something he wasn’t sure about.
I decided to give up, at least temporarily, and settle for a Minnesota substitute license. That couldn’t be hard, right? I mean, I had taught nine years as a fulltime classroom teacher. I had an expired Minnesota license. A substitute license should be a piece of cake.
When I contacted the Department of Ed, they said it would be a piece of cake. I just needed to log into the website and renew. Since I wasn’t renewing the full license, I would uncheck that box and check the sub box.
I logged in. There was no place to renew on my page. There was no substitute box. Under a section of forms not yet available online, I found information about renewing a license or adding a field. I filled out the form, but it didn’t seem to have anything to do with subbing. I contacted the same person again to ask where exactly I could find the place to renew online.
She told me I couldn’t do it online. Her email had the tone of “you’re an idiot, I can’t believe you thought you could do that online.” Of course, at this point, I didn’t think I could do it. I only had thought that because she told me. I even sent a screen shot showing her my account page and how there was no place to renew anything online.
She told me to download the form I had already filled out.
I asked about what to write on the form in regards to the sub license, since the form was obviously geared toward adding another subject field to a valid license. Since my license was expired, it wasn’t valid.
The response went something like this:
Are you renewing your full-time license? If so, you can just do that all online.
Seriously? Have you been paying any attention to what I’ve been telling you? I can’t renew it online. I’m not trying to renew the license anymore. I’m trying to get a damn sub certificate. Even though I’ve taught for a full salary for nine years in another state, I am settling for a license that will allow me to get unstable employment, low salary, and no benefits.
I responded. I’m not trying to renew. I’m just trying to get the sub license.
Her response: You can’t do that online. Here’s the form.
My response: I already asked you about this form. You told me to do it online even though that seems impossible.
Her response: If you are adding a sub certificate, just do it online.
My response: I tried to do it online, but it didn’t work. We’ve had this conversation before.
Her response: You can’t do it online.
At this point, I gave up. Maybe I’m just a quitter in the end, but I needed to find a job, not run around in an endless circle of idiocy.
Needless to say, I am not teaching in the state of Minnesota this year. Perhaps I will not ever teach in their system. Maybe this is all just a sign that it wasn’t meant to be. I was looking for a change of pace as it was. I should be thanking these people for pushing me in the right direction.
After writing this, I will surely never be allowed into the Minnesota public system. My application will always be lost or flagged or denied for some reason or another. Of course it would never have anything to do with speaking the truth. It would just be one of those things that happens anytime there is a glut of paperwork involved.
After all, it is all about the kids, right?