After graduating from Harvard University, Anthony Hernandez taught successfully in an impoverished school in Washington, D.C. But when he moved back home to Minnesota, he was denied a teaching license. He and other frustrated teachers sued the state’s Board of Teaching. A judge recently agreed that by arbitrarily refusing to license those educated elsewhere, the agency was violating the law.
Now, in addition to teaching at Global Academy, a high-performing, high-needs public charter school located just outside Minneapolis, Hernandez advocates for teacher equity in other forums. In a speech last month, outgoing U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan took note of Hernandez’ efforts.
So how do you get your buzz on?
Iced coffee, always. Even in the depths of a Minnesota winter.
How did Arne Duncan learn about the good deeds of a third-grade teacher here in “flyover” territory?
It was a surprise to me and all the credit goes to the team at Educators 4 Excellence (E4E) Minnesota. I received a text from E4E Executive Director Madaline Edison on a Monday afternoon saying “Arne Duncan may or may not be giving you a shout out in four minutes,” followed by a couple of emojis.
I think my work on their teacher-diversity policy paper (along with 15 other Minnesota educators) coupled with my involvement in the lawsuit made for an interesting anecdote.
How exactly my name got passed along up the chain to Arne, I’ll never quite know.
What happens after you’ve been name-checked by a cabinet member? Do your students suddenly show intense interest in the branches of government?
It was quite random that it happened at all. The best, and most humbling, part was when Madaline sent me the official text of his speech, the part that included my shout-out happened off-script during a “[…]” moment. If anyone finds a YouTube link, feel free to send it to me.
A degree from Harvard and classroom success and you couldn’t get a Minnesota teaching license?
Before moving back to Minnesota in the summer of 2014, I was forewarned of the hot mess that awaited me as an alternatively licensed, out-of-state teacher. I would’ve had no problem if the process required a lot of paperwork or a couple additional tests; instead, when I was applying, there was literally no procedure for someone in my position. Several in-person visits to the Minnesota Department of Education and a fast-track request by my principal gave me a one-year temporary license, on the condition that I take a “reading-skills assessment” course. (Why reading and not a math course? Ask the Minnesota Department of Education, not me.)
Other applicants with much more classroom experience were being told to student-teach, whereas a younger teacher like myself was being told only to take a single course. The entire decision-making process was arbitrary and shrouded in mystery. That was the impetus behind the initial lawsuit, which started with four teachers and later grew to 20.
It’s a very strange situation where you have our education commissioner, state legislation and bipartisan lawmakers all telling the Board of Teaching to get its act together. The hope is that the lawsuit will be the last push needed to get some sensible rules in place.
Can you explain the significance of your court victory in terms of diversifying the teacher corps, which is 96 percent white?
There are so many issues in education that require nuance, serious debate, involve lots of gray areas and don’t have clear answers. This is not one of them. We have no interest as a state in creating an insular, closed-off and unclear system for out-of-state teachers, particularly when principals in urban, suburban and rural districts are looking to hire more teachers of color, who often come from elsewhere.
It frankly has me worried that if a relatively small-scale policy change required this amount of organizing, legislative pressure, resources and publicity, what will larger policy battles require?
Do you have any guidance for Duncan, now that he’s the one looking for a career path?
Maybe it’s not too late for him to head into the classroom? I get the vibe that he would be a good fourth- or fifth-grade teacher.