Growth of Unpaid Internships May Be Illegal, Officials Say – rationale on p.2 could be student teaching

Convinced that many unpaid internships violate minimum wage laws, officials in Oregon, California and other states have begun investigations and fined employers. Last year, M. Patricia Smith, then New York’s labor commissioner, ordered investigations into several firms’ internships. Now, as the federal Labor Department’s top law enforcement official, she and the wage and hour division are stepping up enforcement nationwide.

I’m not comparing these unskilled internships to a teaching practicum, but the rationale on p.2 that lower income students are disadvantaged by this practice, isn’t much different from student teaching.

Think about it, for 3+ months, students not only have to work full-time at a school for no pay, but they also have to pay tuition to the tune of thousands of dollars. How many people (both the haves and the have nots) have decided against teaching for this very reason?

Not only do aspiring teachers have to pay to work that semester, but they also need to either load-up on courses the other 3.5 yrs or add another semester onto their 4 yr degree. This is an antiquated and unnecessary requirement that should (and likely will) die off in coming years.

While this experience can be (not always is) beneficial, the investment simply isn’t worth it. For most student teachers, the experience is nothing more than an introduction to the teachers’ lounge and the teaching of a unit and not the apprenticeship under a master teacher as many would like to claim.

Why not pay student teachers. If they are ready to intern, they are certainly ready to be teacher aides. Pay them as such. Instead of the lump taking notes in the back of the class for a month or so, have them monitor students, give feedback, and generally increase teachers’ ability to individualize instruction and then pay them for it.

For their part, universities have to stop treating (and charging) student teachers as full-time students. A fee is certainly called for, but the full cost of tuition, which most have to pay, is a terrible burden. The rising cost of university education is already putting these students out into a world where they are only going to make as little as $18,000 in some areas, yet they could have many thousands in student loans. The most unfortunate students will be paying these loans longer than the mortgage on their homes (if they can qualify for one with an already huge debt load).

There are programs that are doing this, but most are for those who already have degrees and are getting MA’s or advanced certification, or those who are in under-served fields or regions. These need to be the norm and not the exception in our teacher education system.

It is unwise and immoral to continue as we have.

What do you think? Not a fully formed idea, but certainly an ongoing concern of mine, particularly the role that I do and will continue to play in this.

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