In California, most teacher candidates work in classrooms for no pay for a whole year before earning a teaching credential. Due to the demands of teaching during the day and taking teacher coursework in the evening, holding down a job to make ends meet is nearly impossible.
Unpaid student teaching is a rite of passage that has rarely been challenged. Teachers have accepted less than stellar working conditions for so long that not being paid while learning the trade doesn’t seem to raise eyebrows.
In the FAQ section of Purdue University’s website on teacher candidates, here is what the college says about students who wish to work while they teach: “Student teaching is a full-time commitment that leaves very little time for other business. Therefore, we strongly recommend that you do not take on additional responsibilities, such as part-time employment, while you student teach.”
When I was a student teacher, I was quite fortunate that my boss at the time allowed me flexible work hours so that I could continue living on my own while doing my student teaching. But nearly all teacher candidates must stay at home or live with a working spouse as they earn their credential.
While their school work hours are not as long as a full-time teacher’s, they still need to develop lesson plans in a precise, detailed format, have the lessons approved by the classroom teacher who is supervising them, deliver the lessons to the students, establish communication with parents, attend school meetings and grade student work.
I work with student teachers and see how much effort they expend. If they have sleepless nights, it should be due to figuring out how best to unravel a Shakespearean sonnet for students, not because they can’t pay a utility bill.
Even the name “student teacher” sounds somewhat derogatory. Imagine a patient in a hospital being examined by someone called a student doctor instead of a medical intern. Doesn’t sound as comforting, right?
That’s why if nothing else changes about the lot of the student teacher, let’s start referring to them as teaching interns.
And like medical interns who get paid a small salary, teaching interns should likewise receive a stipend. Have the school district and university jointly contribute which, if nothing else, recognizes the hard work it takes to learn the teaching trade.
The Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools district has started doing just that by inaugurating an Aspiring Teacher position this school year that pays teachers-in-the-making almost $16,000 plus benefits (equivalent to half the regular beginning teacher’s salary).
Derek Richey, the Nashville district’s director of innovation, says that school officials there want student teachers to work in a more “paraprofessional capacity.”
For those wishing to cut corners, accelerated teacher credentialing programs such as Teach for America offer full-time paying jobs after participants complete a mere five weeks of instruction; nice for the teacher, not so nice for the student.
What’s ironic is that the least-trained people entering the profession don’t have to financially sacrifice as the most trained do, with the latter group ending up with more college debt.
If we desire the best people teaching to our children, then we need to stop the student-teacher indentureships. We may never know how many college students who might have made wonderful instructors but turned away from teaching because of the financial burden they would have had to endure.
--BRIAN CROSBY is a teacher in the Glendale Unified School District and the author of "Smart Kids, Bad Schools and The $100,000 Teacher." He can be reached at brian-crosby.com.