Finally, the tide is beginning to turn in regard to unpaid internships, in part due to a New York federal court ruling last summer that ruled that Fox Searchlight Pictures broke federal labor law when it employed production interns for no pay. Now, a whole slew of companies in entertainment, publishing and other highly competitive careers are starting to either bite the bullet and pay their interns or get rid of their internship programs altogether. (The judicial decision came in a case in which the interns “performed thankless tasks with no educational value, like ordering lunch, answering phones and taking out the garbage,” according to a Forbes report.)
TC Daily Planet’s Education group (where the education writers get together to talk about stories) met last week and the subject of student teaching came up, especially in comparison to the TFA model. In Teach For America, young people are basically paid regular teacher salaries after a five-week training boot camp. While there may be other issues associated with the TFA system, one of the reasons it’s attractive to graduating college students is that it offers pay right away, and doesn’t require loading on grad school debt before entering a teaching career.
Aspiring teachers who go the traditional route can work a part-time job while completing their course work, but during their student teaching experience, they are usually encouraged not to have a part-time job. They also are usually not allowed to do any substitute teaching or tutoring that would give them some extra money, and are also not paid for the actual work they are doing during student teaching.
The main argument for paying teachers for their student teaching time isn’t that the experience isn’t valuable or one where they learn a great deal, but that it creates a high barrier for lower-income students. They are expected not only to go several months without any income as they complete student teaching, but also to pay tuition for the experience to the higher education institution where they are getting their licensure.
Legally, I don’t think student teaching falls under the federal requirements of internships that must be paid, given that the criteria (such as that the experience is for the benefit of the intern, that it doesn’t displace regular staff, that the institution derives no immediate advantage from the intern and in some cases may actually be impeded) are all met. However, in the interest of attracting a more diverse body of teachers (which clearly continues to be an issue for Minnesota schools), paying student teachers could be a first step toward attracting a broader, more representative field of applicants.
On the other end of the spectrum is TFA, which offers pay but goes too far in the other direction, giving participants a scant five weeks of training before they are put in charge of a classroom. I think a longer, more extensive training is needed and believe all teachers should be given the opportunity to work in collaboration with an experienced classroom teacher before being on their own.
Couldn’t we meet somewhere in the middle? Going into teaching should be an accessible career for anyone who has the skills, intelligence and passion to do it, and we should make sure that they have not only the training but the mentorship they need to be able to be successful.