The American Sign Language teacher license is for teachers who teach American Sign Language (ASL) and Deaf Culture. Many of these teachers teach in the general education setting in public high schools in classes with primarily hearing students. However, it is important to note that these teachers do not provide special education services to students who are deaf, deafblind or hard of hearing. Although the Minnesota Department of Education recognizes ASL as a complete, natural language, there is no teacher preparation program in the state to prepare teachers of ASL for licensure. Instead, historically, teachers who are seeking licensure rely on the submission of a portfolio to be granted a license, as indicated by Minnesota Administrative Rules 8710.4950 (Subp. 5). The portfolio process does not align with the cultural standards of the Deaf community which includes native signers of ASL.
In 2018, the Professional Educator Standards and Licensing Board (PELSB) was established at the same time that Minnesota changed to a tiered licensing system to address high areas of teacher shortage. The Minnesota Commission of the Deaf, DeafBlind and Hard of Hearing (MNCDHH) partnered with the staff of PELSB to set up an Advisory Subcommittee to review the current process of approval for ASL teacher licensure and to recommend changes on requirements for licensing within each of the tiers. Recommendations do not include the standards for licensing. This model is comparable to the licensure of Native American languages instruction which requires teachers of these languages, such as Objiwa and Dakota, be indigenous people.
Changing the ASL teacher licensure process would help ensure that ASL is taught by teachers who are highly proficient in ASL, knowledgeable about Deaf culture, and approved by Deaf citizens who are indigenous to the culture. By adopting this process, Deaf citizens would set the bar for qualifications and be part of the decision panel of who is approved to teach ASL and Deaf culture. If the portfolio process were to be adopted, then the following ideas might be considered: PELSB staff would recruit native or near-native, proficient-in-ASL Deaf community members to train in developing and reviewing portfolios for the ASL teaching license. One team would support teacher candidates in developing their ASL portfolios, and the other team would review the portfolios after they’ve been submitted. Finally, the group has also discussed developing a webinar to explain to teacher candidates how to develop portfolios. The webinar producers would use certified deaf interpreter services with closed captions in order to provide full access to ASL and English. This process has not yet been finalized and approved.