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From the Hawks’ Nest: Teaching Our Region’s Teachers

“From the Hawks’ Nest” is a monthly column by Dickinson State University President Steve Easton

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Dr. Steve Easton, Dickinson State University president.
Photo courtesy of Dickinson State University
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A little more than a century ago, the citizens of western North Dakota were facing a crisis in the schools of what was then known as the “Western Slope.” The North Dakota colleges that trained teachers were too far away to be realistic alternatives for our region’s young women and men who wanted to be teachers. As a result, many one room schools and other classrooms were headed by teachers who lacked teaching credentials.

The solution? A “normal school,” i.e., a teaching training college, in western North Dakota. In 1916, our western North Dakota ancestors pushed for a constitutional amendment to create a “Slope State Normal School,” as promotional brochures called it. On November 7, 1916, the citizens of North Dakota added a, “state normal school at the City of Dickinson” to the North Dakota constitution.

In the summer of 1918, Dickinson Normal School offered its first classes for those pioneer western North Dakota teachers. Thus, our school was founded in a crisis of insufficient numbers of trained teachers. For all of our time since, Dickinson State University has cherished the training of teachers as one of our core missions.

Now the United States is facing a teacher shortage that has been exacerbated by the pandemic. According to a 2021 U.S Department of Education report, all states are reporting shortages in all grade levels, with critically low shortages in special education, science, math, and English language arts. Rural states are particularly hard hit. For example, Montana is reporting a crisis level number of teacher vacancies in the 2021-2022 academic year.

North Dakota, including western North Dakota, is also facing a substantial teacher shortage. Many schools in our state were forced to begin this school year with no in-person teacher for math, English, or science, and had to rely on remote instruction from other school districts. The licensing body for teachers in North Dakota, the ND Education and Standards and Practices Board, reported growing numbers of alternatively licensed teachers in the last five years. Thus, as in DSU’s early days, teachers who are not fully licensed are heading our classrooms.

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Once again, Dickinson State is stepping into the fray to provide those sorely needed teachers for our schools. In an effort to meet the needs of distance students in both the rural and urban parts of North Dakota, as well as Montana, Wyoming, and South Dakota, DSU’s School of Education (SoE) offers its elementary education coursework. Our students are able to take education coursework face-to-face on our Dickinson or Bismarck campuses, via synchronous internet access, or completely asynchronously online. Via these multiple delivery modes, our students can achieve a special education minor, a middle school endorsement, and a kindergarten endorsement in multiple modalities.

DSU’s multi-modal approach meets the accessible needs of traditional in-person students who are on campus, as well as students who work during the day and cannot attend traditional classes. It also allows ND to grow its own teachers in any location and offers paraprofessionals and other education personnel who work in K-12 schools the opportunity to earn a teaching degree and become a licensed teacher. The SoE is dedicated to addressing the teacher shortage by preparing teachers wherever they are and has actively pursued articulations with community colleges in Williston, Glendive, and Miles City, so that students can earn their educational degrees while staying in their local communities.

The SoE has many different types of distance students. Some are like Kenneth, who teaches first grade at Garfield Elementary in Miles City, MT, while attending a mixture of synchronous and asynchronous classes. Others are like Ashley, a young mother, who tends her new baby in Bismarck, while attending courses from home via DSU Live. Yet other students are like Ally and Makayla, who attend classes completely asynchronously, while working full-time as paraprofessionals in Crosby, N.D. All these students share the common desire to be a teacher and are determined to not let logistics deter them.

For more than a century, Dickinson State has proudly taught the teachers of our region. Though we are now doing so in innovative ways that were beyond anyone’s imagination at our founding a century ago, we are still committed to this key mission.

Related Topics: DICKINSON
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