A New Feature of Teacher Prep Programs? Compensating Future Educators...

Workforce Training

A New Feature of Teacher Prep Programs? Compensating Future Educators for Their Time

By Emily Tate Sullivan     May 30, 2023

A New Feature of Teacher Prep Programs? Compensating Future Educators for Their Time
A student is honored at the May 2023 graduation reception for the Dallas College School of Education.

The request came from the students.

Those who were enrolled in — or considering enrolling in — American University’s School of Education said they wanted more classroom experience, more opportunities to practice their craft before being released to do it alone every day to a room full of kids.

Wish granted. Today, and for the last year or so, aspiring educators at American University are required to spend a minimum of 40 hours tutoring students in Washington, D.C., public schools, in addition to completing the long-standing requirement of student teaching for a semester.

“We see now, as students are entering student teaching with this additional experience tutoring, how much stronger they are and how much more prepared they are,” says Ocheze Joseph, director of undergraduate teacher education at the university. “They’re more comfortable in the classroom, more familiar.”

And these students aren’t just getting relevant teaching experience. They’re also getting paid.

It’s an idea that seems to be catching on at teacher preparation programs around the country. Some program leaders say it’s an important way to show future teachers that their time is valued. Others say it’s a necessary step to diversify the profession. At the same time, it’s a method for meeting the immediate short-term needs of school districts, many of which are understaffed.

The idea is also based on research about how to turn novices into experts, says Valerie Sakimura, executive director of Deans for Impact, a national nonprofit with a mission of ensuring every child is taught by a well-prepared teacher. Research indicates that aspiring educators who get to practice teaching earlier in their training and more often are more likely to be effective, Sakimura says.

“It’s not just practice in a vacuum, but practice with opportunities to get feedback and then practice again and again,” she adds.

In a number of programs that are trying this — building in additional student-facing experiences for aspiring educators and oftentimes compensating them for it — the practice opportunities start small and expand over time. Earlier in their education programs, aspiring educators might engage with students in an after-school program or club. Later, they may do one-on-one or small group tutoring. By the end of their training, they will be ready to take on the responsibility of teaching an entire classroom of students for a semester, Sakimura notes.

“The experiences that they’re getting are more and more complex as they build up their skill to think of all the aspects that it takes to be a teacher,” she says. “It’s chunked and sequenced over time very intentionally.”

This approach is also likely to prepare future teachers in another way, Sakimura says: “It’s about getting into classrooms and seeing the reality of school.”

In other words, teachers who get some direct experience in today’s classrooms — seeing the unique challenges and opportunities of schools that are still recovering from the pandemic, for example — before they are handed their own room keys are more likely to be successful and prepared.

American University Pays Tutors

American University’s School of Education established the Future Teacher Tutors Program in fall 2020.

It started off as a way to bring high-impact tutoring to elementary school students in northeast Washington, D.C. But with promising results and additional grant funding, it has expanded to other parts of the city and other age groups in the public school system. Along the way, it also became a graduation requirement for teacher candidates at the university.

Across the spring, summer and fall semesters of 2022, 50 tutors worked with 116 elementary students. This spring, 62 tutors worked with 118 students in kindergarten through ninth grade.

By the time education majors at American University become seniors, most of them will have completed their 40-hour tutoring requirement, usually as part of an upper-level service learning course. Many go well beyond the minimum hours asked of them.

“We have a handful of tutors who have been tutoring from the very first semester and will continue when they graduate,” explains Danielle G. Sodani, director of the Institute for Innovation in Education at the university’s School of Education. “They’re hooked. They fall in love with these students.”

It seems to be making a difference for both the tutors and the K-12 students. Last fall, according to findings shared by faculty, tutors’ knowledge of foundational reading skills increased by 33 percent. Meanwhile, the students being tutored showed statistically significant growth in reading skills such as letter naming and fluency.

“We found that the combined effect of tutors' knowledge of both reading development and culturally responsive pedagogy was significantly correlated with students' reading development,” Sodani shared in an email.

Teacher candidates at most colleges are not paid when they work in schools as student teachers. That’s true at American University, and that’s not likely to change, according to faculty.

Yet teacher candidates and their classmates who aren’t majoring in education are paid $22 an hour for tutoring DC Public Schools students, as well as for their time spent in weekly training and professional development. Through the university’s partnership with the rideshare app Lyft, students are also reimbursed for transportation to and from the schools where they are tutoring students.

“It’s a great incentive for recruitment,” says Aliyah Evans, program manager of Future Teacher Tutors, of the pay. “But also it alleviates students’ need to work outside of it while going to school, if they’re completing course requirements and getting paid for it.”

“Many of them would have other jobs, if not this,” adds Joseph. It can be pricey for students to attend the private university, which is based in a city with a high cost of living.

Cheryl Holcomb-McCoy, dean of the university’s School of Education, agrees that paying aspiring educators for their time and service with K-12 students “eases the pressure” on them to find other part-time jobs. But she also sees the decision to pay these individuals as symbolic.

“It’s important for us to realize that students are sacrificing a lot to go to college to become a teacher, with low salaries when they’re coming out,” Holcomb-McCoy explains. “I don’t want to understate the need for teachers to feel valued right now.”

She adds: “Any little thing we can do to send that message that we value them goes a long, long way.”

Dallas College Pays Teacher Residents

At Dallas College, a Hispanic-serving institution and one of the largest community colleges in Texas, it’s a different story.

A legislative change in 2017 allowed the college to begin offering bachelor’s degrees for the first time. It started enrolling students in upper-level courses in fall 2021, boasting “one of the most affordable bachelor’s degrees in the country,” according to Sara DeLano, dean of educator pathways at the Dallas College School of Education. Students can earn a four-year degree for less than $10,000, she says — including books and not factoring in any financial aid or scholarships.

As leaders of a new program, DeLano and her colleagues had the opportunity to think about what today’s aspiring educators need to be prepared for the modern classroom. They were also able to consider the realities of their students. Many are older, often with some college experience under their belts. Many work full-time jobs and have families. They need flexibility and affordability, as well as overlaps between their jobs and their coursework.

“Affordability matters a lot,” DeLano acknowledges. “As a community college, we’re focused a lot on job-embedded learning.”

That is baked into the program in a few different ways. For example, aspiring educators can tutor K-12 students through Dallas Independent School District for about $20 an hour.

During students’ senior year at Dallas College, they do a paid year-long residency. Every student is embedded with a “mentor teacher” who, as time passes, gives the student more and more opportunities to lead lessons and take on responsibilities in the classroom.

“If you’re going to become an effective teacher, you need strong examples,” DeLano says. “You need to be in an environment learning from an expert, with sheltered opportunities to practice with students.”

The residency is similar to traditional student teaching experiences, except it lasts a full year and pays about $30,000.

That’s important considering the composition of the program’s students, DeLano says, explaining that more than half are Black or Hispanic and more than half are the first in their families to attend college.

“We know if they are required to do unpaid work to get a degree, they’re not going to graduate,” she says.

The school districts are the ones footing the bill for the residency program. They see the merits of the arrangement too, according to DeLano.

Oftentimes, aspiring educators are trained to manage classroom dynamics and work in school settings different from the types they will actually face once they start their careers. In contrast, the Dallas College residency aims to place teacher candidates in schools that will actually consider hiring them once they have graduated.

“What we’re saying to school systems,” DeLano says, “is let’s set up residencies where you know you’re going to have vacancies: the high-need schools. Let’s match our students with your best teachers so they are being trained in the environment where they will be teaching.”

To the students at Dallas College, DeLano and her colleagues frame the residency as a “year-long job interview,” she says. They encourage students to accept a residency position in a school only if they hope to become a full-time teacher in it.

“Districts know if they invest a little money now, the return is much higher. This person is going to be effective on day one, and they’re more likely to stay in the district,” DeLano says. “If a resident is placed in a year-long program, they come out looking like a year three teacher.”

A ‘Seamless Pathway’ to Teaching

Dallas College has also built out an apprenticeship program, following a decision by the U.S. Department of Labor in 2021 to designate education as an eligible sector.

In this model, employers agree to support existing staff and work with an institution of higher education while their employee gets upskilled. For a school setting, the employers are districts, and the staff are often education aides and paraprofessionals who, with a bit of training and support, can become effective licensed teachers in their district.

“What I think really matters about apprenticeship programs for education, is educational aides and paras mirror the communities they’re going to serve,” DeLano says, noting that many support staff are women of color and live in the same neighborhoods as the students. “This is a really important strategy for diversifying the educator workforce and supporting a group of women in getting to a living wage.”

DeLano estimates that paraprofessionals in north Texas start off making about one-third the annual income of a full-time teacher. The National Education Association found that nearly 40 percent of full-time K-12 education support professionals nationwide earn less than $25,000 per year.

Right now, DeLano adds, there really isn’t a good model or pathway for education support staff to become teachers.

“The power of the apprenticeship is to support people like your paraprofessionals who are already employed, to provide that seamless pathway to certification,” she says. “We want to shift how we think of paraprofessionals to not just a job but a first step to a teacher role — a teacher-in-training role.”

Like other teacher candidates at Dallas College, apprentices will complete a year-long residency, where they’re working in a classroom at least three days a week. The difference is that apprentices’ employers must commit to incremental wage increases as apprentices inch closer to full teacher certification. This model also comes with the benefit of unlocking additional funding for job training.

The first cohort of apprentices began in July 2022 with two school districts signed on. All 42 who began last summer graduated this May, and 41 have been offered jobs in the districts they work. Some, DeLano adds proudly, have even been given multiple job offers.

The early success has ginned up interest among other school districts in the region, some of which have already signed on as partners.

“At the end of the day, it comes down to, are we serious about wanting to diversify the workforce?” DeLano says. “If we’re serious, we need to do this.”

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