Student Stories

Jessica Buckless - 762

Calling for Diversity: Jessica Buckless, MA-Teaching '16

A Salish Tribe member native to the Flathead Reservation in Montana, Jessica Buckless, Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) ’16 knows how important it is to instill academic confidence in students of all backgrounds. And doing this, she knows, is about more than exercising a rigorous academic schedule; it’s also about keeping the classroom culturally relevant.

From the time Buckless followed her older sister to the University of Minnesota for her undergraduate college career, she knew she wanted to be a teacher. She also knew, once she arrived in Minnesota, that she wanted to stay.

“I stayed because I really like the diversity that the Twin Cities has to offer from a teacher standpoint,” Buckless said. “I have a very strong desire, because I’m multicultural, to be around other cultures and learn from them.”

Immersion into other cultures is a daily facet of Buckless’ teaching career. She did her student teaching at Anishinabe Academy, which is a Native American school, but it is predominantly Ojibwe, so there were some cultural differences. Furthermore, Buckless grew up on a fairly remote reservation, and in Anishinabe she was working with an urban population. 

Now, Buckless teaches at Noble Academy, which has a primarily Hmong student population. While this cultural transition was more challenging for Buckless, she has enjoyed it immensely. 

“Even though I’m from a different tribe, the Native American culture is very similar, so I felt like I connected more easily at Anishinabe,” Buckless said. “Now, being a Hmong school, I have a lot of questions and want to know more and try new things all the time.”

One of those new things was participating in was the Hmong New Year; she said she was even gifted a traditional dress to wear for the occasion. As well as Hmong students, Buckless also has first generation African students in her classroom who are eager to share pieces of their culture and whose parents have come into the classroom to share stories.

Having parents participating in their children’s education is something that Buckless heavily promotes in her classroom. When asked about the ways in which our schools can combat the opportunity gap for students of color and indigenous students, Buckless responded, “Promoting an atmosphere of being culturally relevant and getting to know families and students. Everyone learns differently in different cultures; when teachers are trained to adapt to that, I think students will thrive.”

The idea of culture relevance is one that Buckless believes Hamline’s MAT program embodies very strongly. 

“I felt that Hamline prepared me really well in the classroom and in personal sharing for how important culture is in the classroom,” Buckless said. “That’s something Hamline’s MAT program focuses in: being culturally relevant.”

One of the programs Hamline offers in pursuit of diversifying the teaching workforce is the Teaching Fellows program, which is supported by the Minnesota legislature’s Collaborative Urban Educator funding.

Available for new teachers enrolled at Hamline who self identify as a student of color and indigenous students, the primary purpose of the Fellows program is to fund student teaching and provide living stipends. Buckless, a member of the program, insists that the program offers so much more.

“All kinds of cultures are represented,” Buckless said, speaking of the Fellows program. “We’re assigned different books to read and talk and learn about different types teaching and learning. It’s really focused on how to understand kids culturally and working with kids of different ethnicities. And most importantly, it’s a support group, especially for first year teachers. We talk about our first parent-teacher conferences; we celebrate growth. You usually don’t get this when you finish a teaching program.”

“The first year of teaching is incredibly hard,” Buckless went on. “That’s why it’s so important to have a support group and an experienced leader like Joyce there to help guide us and be the voice of reason. She’s been a really good mentor and role model.”

Joyce Bell, an African American woman who received her EdD from the University of Minnesota, is always willing to talk about her own personal struggles and successes, Buckless said, which promotes really positive group sharing. 

“It’s really cool to learn and see how everyone has grown as professionals and have had successful careers.”

Buckless received her initial teaching licensure from Hamline, a program that she thoroughly enjoyed—enough so to stay at Hamline and complete her master’s degree in teaching.

The initial licensure program, which offers classes at night for working professionals, was very much worth it, said Buckless. “I enjoyed all the teachers and classes, and I really enjoyed the small class sizes. It was wonderful. You have a community of students that’s harder to find at a larger school.”

One of the aspects of Hamline’s initial licensure program that Buckless felt was extremely valuable is the co-teaching model of the program.

“When you co-teach, you learn how to be a good teammate and collaborate with someone in a positive way,” she said. “You learn about someone else’s teaching style, which is really beneficial as a new teacher. And the support is really beneficial as well. When you’re thrown into it on your own, it can be really intimidating.”

After she finished her initial licensure, it only seemed natural for her to take the next step in the MAT program and take the last three classes that would complete her master’s degree.

“I was right there, you know? I made it this far and I wanted to push on and finish,” she said. “And there’s a lot of support in the initial program to follow up with the master’s.”

Buckless’ advice for students entering the School of Education?

“Be prepared to learn about lots of new methods of teaching and culture and ethnicity in education, and have an open mindset. Be able to mold into the kind of teacher that students need today.”

Find out more about the Hamline School of Education's Master of Arts in Teaching and the many licensure options available through the program, or contact Hamline's Graduate Admission Office to learn more about joining the Hamline community.