Pathways to Licensure for Heritage Language Teachers

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In Minnesota, nearly 150,000 students speak a primary language other than English at home, with the top five being Spanish, Somali, Hmong, Karen, and Vietnamese.

Yet many of these languages are not commonly used, taught, or valued in school—despite overwhelming evidence that heritage language study can help students not only to progress academically, but also to develop a sense of identity, belonging, and connection to their community.

Part of the challenge is that, until recently, there were no licensure programs for educators of many of these languages. We are worked with a group of teachers of heritage languages (largely Hmong and Somali) to propose a new licensure pathway focused on a mentorship program and evidence of prior learning, which passed into law in 2023.

We are now working hand in hand with Minnesota’s teacher licensing board (i.e. Professional Educator Licensing and Standards Board or PELSB) to implement this new law successfully and with fidelity to our community’s needs and intent.

Our end goal is both to help an initial group of heritage language teachers obtain licensure, but also blaze a trail for an innovative, mentorship- and experience-based licensure approach that some day can be used by diverse, qualified teacher candidates across licensure areas.