“Citizen Teachers” address teacher shortage in Rochester


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Three Solutions to Rochester’s Critical Teacher Shortage

By Kate H. Elliott

Each thread of the state’s teacher shortage has tangled into a giant, seemingly hopeless mess—leaving educators and communities somewhat paralyzed as to which string to sort out first.

But Kaycee Rogers, director of education at Augsburg College’s Rochester site, believes in Rochester’s nimble fingers. The overwhelming statistics, she said, aren’t factoring in the power of human energy, the collective strength of community, and the innovative connections mounting among educators and community leaders. Rogers is among a growing cadre of “citizen teachers” working together to increase teacher support and retention, remove legislative and licensure obstacles, and empower neighbors to fill vacant positions within the community’s second largest employer—Rochester Public Schools.

Complex, Mounting Problems

On the rise since the 1980s, Minnesota’s teacher shortage has achieved crisis levels in the past decade. The Minnesota Department of Education, for instance, reported hiring more than 3,500 teachers who lacked necessary licenses, with special education and English Learner teachers among the toughest positions to fill. And students in these populations are increasing at roughly the same rate as the decline of those licensed to teach them.

To wrap these factors in even more red tape—ahem, string—are mounting paperwork and licensure requirements, which are made worse by the fact that some required licenses are not offered at the state’s colleges and universities.

Embrace Diversity, Empower ‘Citizen Teachers’

But Rogers remains hopeful. She uses the phrase “citizen teacher” to reiterate the role of teachers in public life and the importance of community-focused, culturally-relevant education. Rogers said the solution is not “out there,” but within each city, within Rochester.

“Rochester is a resettlement hub for refugees; and with several industry leaders, including the Mayo Clinic, our community draws non-native English speakers, who often start out in the service industry,” Rogers said. “We want to reach out to people who look like our students, come from the same backgrounds—perhaps those already working with our students as teacher aides or in other supporting roles—to advance their education, and we want that education to celebrate all cultures, provide students with multiple entry points for understanding, and make a difference in our community.”

It’s well documented that students retain more and have a positive view of education when they relate to teachers and aren’t asked to check their heritage at the door, Rogers said. Growing teachers from Rochester’s diverse population will beget more teachers of color—as students see someone like them leading the class, they may want to teach the next generation, she added.

Adopt Community-Focused, Student-Led Learning

Rogers and other teacher educators in Rochester are focused on retaining teachers, particularly within the critical first five years (a period with the highest turnover rate). She said that efforts start with conversations that build into professional development and support networks that address challenges. Rogers stresses that incentives and infrastructure must coincide with initiatives to confront the roots of the shortage, including class sizes, paperwork loads, and appropriate student placement, especially for those with special needs.

Meanwhile, teacher educators and administrators are striving to improve classroom culture through support of meaningful, relevant learning experiences. As an example, Rogers shares work an Augsburg student is engaged in as part of her coursework on public achievement:

Heather Mabbitt, a special education teacher in Lyle, Minnesota, asked a group of first-12th graders: What is a problem in our community? Their response: Hunger, specifically that some students go without snack each day. Her next question: Well, what are we going to do about it? As a part of the answer, she is now guiding these students with physical and emotional disabilities to raise awareness and support for a snack pantry of healthy options.

“There’s no reason why students shouldn’t learn through experiences that matter to them, and we can give them the tools to make a difference now,” Rogers said. “We have fourth- and fifth-graders writing grants, speaking to community groups, navigating teamwork, and participating in democracy,” Rogers said. “It’s been amazing to watch our teachers transition to more of a coaching role, while students take the lead to apply classroom learning to issues and situations of meaning to them.”

Broaden the Scope of Licensures

This community-focused approach pairs well with the more comprehensive, inclusive approach emerging to address special populations. More and more colleges and universities are phasing out specializations in narrow disability categories and adopting broader licensures, like the Academic Behavioral Strategist. The ABS prepares teacher candidates to work across all classifications of mild to moderate disabilities.

“A comprehensive, inclusive approach, we believe, equips teachers to address the complex challenges of today’s classrooms and qualifies them for a wider range of teaching positions,” Rogers said. “Exposure to more teaching strategies, more specializations only helps teacher candidates adapt and innovate in order to provide students with multiple access points for understanding.”


Interested in education programs in Rochester? Learn more.

Jane Addams School for Democracy comes to a close

After twenty years of democratic education and practice, the Jane Addams School for Democracy met for the last time earlier this month. From the beginning, its founders sought to free and cultivate the talents, cultures, and interests of people from diverse backgrounds and traditions and engage in a minimally structured, non-hierarchical way that allows participants to shape the agenda. The Jane Addams School for Democracy brought immigrant families, college students and other community members together to do public work and learning. It was inspired by the vision of democracy, productive citizenship, and popular education held by settlement house pioneers like Jane Addams, who created Hull House in Chicago in 1889.

As we consider the current state of our democracy, the principles and practices of Jane Addams School are a much needed antidote to the polarization and division that colors public discourse. We have faith that the lessons of Jane Addams School can continue to support a more just and democratic world. In 2007, the Kettering Foundation published a book called Voices of Hope: The Story of the Jane Addams School for Democracy which features 22 essays by 12 Jane Addams School participants, including non-native English speakers, and more than 75 photos.

The Oz Behind the Curtain – Phil O’Neil: Public Achievement Coach


PA Group: Animal Rescuers

PA Project: Community 3k Walk/Run Fundraiser

Often times, the education system can be seen as rigid and formulaic, limiting the potential of young people. Phil O’Neil, a three-year veteran public achievement coach, knows this well. However, he sees public achievement as a way to break the mold and this has inspired him to pursue a career as an educator.

Continue reading “The Oz Behind the Curtain – Phil O’Neil: Public Achievement Coach”

R.E.S.P.E.C.T – Mukwa uses Public Achievement to encourage others to respect different cultures

PA Profile 1


5th grader at Maxfield Elementary School

PA Group: Culture and Diversity

PA Project: Multicultural Cookbook

Public Achievement creates free space where young people develop the power to take leadership in at least part of their education and impact the world around them. Students choose a community issue they are passionate about and work for an entire school year to develop a solution, using “everyday citizen politics” to work across differences. Throughout the process, students develop public confidence, learn how to organize and become leaders. Continue reading “R.E.S.P.E.C.T – Mukwa uses Public Achievement to encourage others to respect different cultures”

A welcome return of drug-store democracy


New forum relaunches legendary discussion group. The first topic — the legacy of slavery — won’t be timid.


The iconic pot-bellied stove was absent. No jam-packed retail shelves stood watch. But the essential ingredients of the never-named monthly discussion group that challenged premises and pricked consciences at a Prospect Park drug store for 27 years came together anew last week — chief among them the group’s founder, Tom SenGupta.

SenGupta, 76, has had two cancer surgeries and a run of chemotherapy in the year since he sold Schneider Drug on University Avenue, the independent drug store he owned for 43 years. But the pharmacist has recovered sufficiently to again pursue what always seemed to be his true calling — the perfecting of American democracy. … read more

In a Season of Rage, Populist Lessons From the Movement

The media casts Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders as populists. But a civil rights activist reminds us that the great populist movements of the past channeled people’s anger into a force for constructive change.


(Rowland Scherman/US Information Agency/Wikimedia Commons)

Coming back to the US after time in South Africa, anger in the election is like a blast furnace. I’m also struck by the ubiquitous use of populism as a framework of analysis.

Trump and Sanders: Different Candidates with a Populist Streak,” reported Chuck Todd on NBC News. Most reporters and commentators use “populism” to mean inflammatory rhetoric. Thus Jonathan Goldberg, writing in the National Review, argues Trump and Sanders are “Two Populist Peas in a Pod,” stirring up “millions of people [who] are convinced that the system is rigged against them.”

Continue reading “In a Season of Rage, Populist Lessons From the Movement”

Citizens as Co-Creators

By Harry C. Boyte

I like your question to students, “how are decisions on various levels of importance are made?” I agree that the capacity to “throw the rascals out” is essential.

But I also am convinced democracy is not only about decision making. It is about co-creation and a feeling of ownership – where “culture” comes in.

Some years ago I had an exchange with two distinguished academics, Eric Olin Wright and Archon Fung, about their “Deepening Democracy” essay, later published in Politics and Society (my response, “Reconstructing Democracy,” is also on the Havens site).

They were interested in developing “transformative democratic strategies,” larger than local experiments or single issue movements. Drawing lessons from large scale examples which they called “empowered deliberative democracy,” from habitat conservation planning under the Endangered Species Act to participatory budget discussions in Brazil, they developed a model which  could be adapted to schools.

They distilled three principles: Issues have a practical focus on specific, tangible problems; all involve ordinary people affected by the problems and officials close to them; all rely on deliberative development of problem solving. They noted three design features – decentralization of state decision making to local units; creation of formal linkages that connect local units to each other and to more central authorities; and ways to support and guide problem-solving efforts.

Continue reading “Citizens as Co-Creators”

Introducing the Tom SenGupta Forum

Last March we announced the Sabo Center’s partnership with Changing the Norm of Society, a project conceived by Tom SenGupta, long time pharmacist and owner of Schneider Drug on University Avenue in Minneapolis, who convened hundreds of conversations on politics and public issues that took place after hours right in the aisles of the drug store. Today we are pleased to introduce the project under its new name, the Tom SenGupta Forum.

Tom Sengupta
MinnPost photo by Bill Kelley, full story linked below.

The project’s mission is to create inclusive places with opportunities for learning and sharing of ideas which inspire ordinary citizens to reclaim our moral compass and reshape our world. Planning is underway to open the Tom SenGupta Forum soon and the first topic will be the legacy of slavery and its impact on society today.

Learn more about Tom SenGupta
MinnPost column by Doug Grow: The Legend of Tom SenGupta
Star Tribune column: Beloved community leader to say goodbye to his independent drugstore
Star Tribune column: Philosopher pharmacist dreams of a memorial to the common man

Make a Gift to the Tom SenGupta Forum
To donate to the project by mail, send a check payable to Augsburg University to:
Sabo Center for Democracy and Citizenship, Tom SenGupta Forum
2211 Riverside Avenue, CB 10
Minneapolis, MN 55454

Stay in Touch
To receive e-mail updates about the Tom SenGupta Forum please send a message to sabocenter@augsburg.edu