- The Student-Teaching Model Is Outdated: Here's How We Can Do Better - September 15, 2021
- Visualize: How Seeing What's Coming Changed My Teaching - August 16, 2021
- 10 Lessons About Teaching from My Youngest Son - June 24, 2021
- Ending the Epithet “Try-Hard” Once and for All in Classrooms - June 18, 2021
- From STEM, Let's Pivot to the BRANCHES of the Humanities - May 25, 2021
- Would Education Collapse If Teachers Stopped Working for Free? - May 20, 2021
- 10 Ways to Teach Like Ted Lasso: Part II - April 21, 2021
- 8 Tips So Your Substitute Plans Don't Suck - April 14, 2021
- 10 Ways to Teach Like Ted Lasso: Part I - March 12, 2021
- The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teachers: Habit 3 - First Things First - February 26, 2021
This summer I spoke with three friends on three consecutive days. Each declared burnout in their field - one in business, one in transportation, the other in sales - and they were hearkening back to their college-aged dreams. All parents themselves. All great with kids. All looking to become teachers.
But because of student-teaching, they just can't do it.
And so many others can't, either.
In the United States, 39 of 50 departments of education require at least 10 weeks of student-teaching, and most college institutions require that as a minimum. In Pennsylvania (where I teach), that requirement is 16 weeks.
In that time, essentially what we are asking of student-teachers is to work for negative pay ($0 salary minus the cost of college tuition) to not have a guaranteed job as an outcome.
By definition, student-teaching becomes an uneconomical choice for:
1. Those without the means looking to move up the social ladder
2. Experienced folks in search of a second career who can't afford to take the risk
3. Individuals who would rather choose paid internships
4. Experienced master-teachers who receive little-to-no benefit for turning over their classroom to a novice
And when I met with a group of folks at the Pennsylvania Department of Education in 2019 to talk about changing student-teaching requirements, they talked about increasing that length of unpaid time in the classroom.
What we are doing with student-teaching is preposterous. And what is coming next might be worse.
We can do so much better.
PAYING COOPERATING TEACHERS MORE
Working in reverse order, we need to provide incentives for cooperating teachers to turn over the classroom keys.
First and foremost, the average cooperating teacher makes $250 for hosting a student-teacher, which is pennies on the hour. It makes much more dollars and sense to just take an extra-duty contract or pick up a part-time job. A weekend of waiting tables will often produce more than this task.
Moreover, in an age of data-driven determinations, being a cooperating teacher is a seriously difficult ask for those in tested subject areas. They know that a bad year of test scores can really be an impediment to one's career.
THE IDEA OF A PAID STUDENT-TEACHING
My brother entered as an apprentice in the electrical union. During the day he would be in the field, working on lines and making $15+ per hour. At night he would attend classes and pick up the skills of the trade from an experienced teacher who was invested in him.
One of my friends is in the pipe-fitter union, where they are hired and make $18 an hour and learn the trade and the certifications at their speed with the advisement of a mentor.
It might also help to give the teachers' unions more control over who enters student-teaching, thereby guaranteeing an income. For example, there were 240% too many teachers graduating with an elementary certificate, but there are deficits in content areas (to no surprise) technology education, vocational-technical fields, and special education. There are also intense deficits in high-poverty, high-turnover schools.
As we experience an extreme dearth of support staff and substitute teachers, it would be great to give student-teachers an income by plugging these holes and then receiving feedback from a master-educator.
As in the case of trade unions, this helps to keep the quality of the work high as well as the income for the apprentice - a win-win for both.
BOOSTING THE GUEST-TEACHER PROGRAM
One pipeline that could continue to generate income for second-career educators is to infuse the guest-teacher programs at regional and state levels. While not at the level of a full salary, a commitment from an interested, experienced person with a college degree interested in pursuing the education field could help keep food on the table, classroom coverage, while providing a learning environment for the interested party to pursue a teaching certificate. This would occur without having to take the risk of 10 or more weeks of unpaid time.
This would also open up opportunities for first-generation college students looking to enter the field and leave poverty, countering the financial disincentives to entering the profession.
When I entered college as the first in my family, I was presented with this exact situation. I remember writing a check with every penny of my 18-year-old's savings to my college, and working hard until grants (and later scholarships) helped cover most of the burden. When I student-taught, I remember waking up every morning at 5 a.m., working as hard as I could before and after school until I drove to my night job, where I kept full-time hours. It did not make for a good experience at all, and it almost drove me from the profession.
What made me love teaching was substituting, getting paid for it, and not having to burn both ends of my candle. The fact that we still require our student-teachers to do this is wrong, and we can do so much better. We just need the means to push this change towards more win-wins for students and staff alike.