August 2022

For three recent college graduates — Gabrielle Wiest, Jemmy Vasquez Sermeño and Bailee Larson — the start of the school year has always been something to look forward to. This fall is different however, as they take the next steps in their careers as teachers.

“I’ve wanted to be a teacher since high school, because I had good teachers in high school that supported me. Because of them, I felt a passion for being an educator,” Vasquez Sermeño reflected. “I want to be able to do that for other students.”

Drawing upon past experiences

A 2021 Hamline alum who is currently enrolled in Hamline’s Master of Arts in Teaching pathway program, Vasquez Sermeño is also ready to make an impact on students. In September, Vasquez Sermeño will lead a third grade classroom in West St. Paul as part of a student teaching experience through Hamline. “My goal this fall is to make sure I listen to what students need and understand how I can help them through student-centered teaching,” Vasquez Sermeño said.

Also this fall Wiest is set to teach first grade in New Brighton as a new teacher. Wiest is a recent Hamline University graduate with a goal of building authentic and positive relationships with students and colleagues. As a woman of color, Wiest values the opportunity to be in front of the classroom as an advocate and a role model. Her motivation to pursue a career in elementary education was largely sparked by the lack of representation she experienced as a young learner. “I didn’t think I could even be a teacher when I was little because I didn’t have any teachers who looked like me,” Wiest said. “I’m so grateful to have the opportunity to become a teacher and connect with all my students and be a role model, especially for younger students of color.”

For both Wiest and Vasquez Sermeño, being the change they wish to see in their classrooms is something they feel ready for, thanks to a plethora of faculty mentors and the strength of their preparation.

Ready to lead as the year starts

Bailee Larson, a recent graduate of Concordia College in Moorhead, feels well prepared to start her education career. She’ll be a first grade teacher in Otsego, located northwest of the Twin Cities. She credits the college’s teacher education program for providing a strong foundation. “When I started at Concordia College, right off the bat I was able to go into the classroom. That helped me grow in my confidence as a teacher,” Larson said.

When it comes to anticipated challenges as a new educator, Larson is ready to continue learning. “There are so many logistical pieces to think about. I’m sure there will be things I haven’t thought about yet, but they will be things I’ll learn throughout the school year,” she said.

The prospect of hurdles — and ways to surmount them — is on Wiest’s mind as well “It’s a lot to do at once, but I’m excited for the first couple of weeks,” Wiest said.

Meeting Minnesota’s needs

Across the state, there are shortages of K-12 teachers. Minnesota also faces a significant shortage of K-12 teachers of color and Native American teachers. Educating future teachers is a key contribution to the health and welfare of the state — one that Minnesota private colleges are proud of making.

Nearly a quarter of all four-year education degrees in Minnesota are earned at private nonprofits in the state, based on data from 2019-20. Also, in Minnesota, 23 percent of all four-year education degrees awarded to students of color and Native American students were awarded by Minnesota private nonprofit colleges. All 18 members of the Minnesota Private College Council offer undergraduate degree options in education. There are also multiple private nonprofit institutions that offer critical graduate degree opportunities.

Beyond the numbers, Minnesota private nonprofit colleges are committed to educating and supporting future teachers, including working in coalition with other partners to address systemic inequities that educators of color and Native American educators often face.

Focusing on teaching styles

“The shift with COVID-19 was really hard, but Hamline did a good job emphasizing a teaching style that focuses on inclusion in the classroom,” Vasquez Sermeño said. “The program prepared me to know that students are not going to be just one type of learner. We’re going to have students who have different learning styles and backgrounds.”

Wiest also echoed the importance of having an adaptable teaching style. “In order to find out different learning styles of each student, I want to try multiple things and see what works best. I want every student in my room to be successful,” she said.

For Larson, her teaching philosophy is especially focused on relationships, and she plans to emphasize that on the first day of class. “Students care about what you’re teaching if they care about you and if they know you care about them. There needs to be a supportive environment and a level of trust,” she said.

By Rachel Wormer