“What we owe to our students … is to have schools full of educators from their communities who speak their languages who understand their culture.”
Groups are pushing for alternatives to the Massachusetts Tests for Educator Licensure (MTEL), which they say can be a barrier to greater teacher diversity.
As demographics across the Commonwealth change, the educator workforce continues to be majority white, and the MTEL has been identified as discriminatory against educators of color and those for whom English is not their native language.
Merrie Najimy, president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, said a bill before the Legislature would address alternatives to the licensure test and provide support for districts to build recruitment and retention structures.
“What we owe to our students who are multilingual, of different racial and ethnic backgrounds, is to have schools full of educators from their communities who speak their languages who understand their culture, who really represent them and their communities,” Najimy outlined.
Najimy pointed out the bill does not specify an alternative. It leaves it up to the Department of Education, but she noted there are options, from coursework from bachelor’s or master’s degrees to work samples or presentations.
Rosa Valentin teaches English as a second language in Springfield, where the public school population is more than 60% Latino or Hispanic, and nearly 20% Black. She has not passed the MTEL, but she is fully certified. She received her certification in 1994, before the test was put in place. She said she has served in temporary administrative roles and excelled, but cannot get a permanent promotion.
“We’re losing educators that look like the population that they have in front of them,” Valentin asserted. “And I’m a clear example of that. I’m fully certified, but not being able to pass the writing test has held me back in growing into another positions.”
Najimy added eliminating the test requirement goes hand in hand with recruitment and retention. She emphasized it is important to connect with community-based organizations and Historically Black Colleges and Universities in recruitment, and make sure schools are welcoming environments for educators of all backgrounds.
“Too often when there are too few educators of color, they are looked upon as the ones who have to teach everybody about racism,” Najimy observed. “Rather than the district really investing in programs that help the entire school community understand issues of racism.”