Friday, March 24, 2023

Should Student Teachers Be Paid

Among the fifteen or so student teachers that I hosted over the years, a handful made the observation that somebody should be paying them. 

I didn't say anything. I did not agree then. But I may have changed my mind.

Hosting a student teacher, done properly, is a ton of work. You have responsibility for all the usual lesson planning, only second hand, checking and going over all of it. And the more trouble your student teacher is having catching on, the more time you spend ("Okay, you say you want to discuss 'The Road Not Taken.' What exactly do you want to discuss about it? What are some of the questions you're going to use to draw the students out? Where do you hope the discussion will lead?") You watch the lessons being delivered and essentially develop a lesson plan on the fly for how you'll help the student teacher process what happened. And you've got to balance making sure that neither the student teacher nor the students in your class are being shortchanged. Plus the career and personal counseling (How many times did I tell someone at the end of their day, "It's okay. If you don't cry at least once during student teaching, you don't understand the situation.")

To get all meta and mindful about classroom practice is exhilarating, but also exhausting. It is no wonder that some cooperating teachers simply hand a lesson plan over and say, "Just do this," or just hand the class over and go sit in the lounge. In all my years, I had exactly one student teacher who was a natural who needed very little assistance from me. In many cases it was not until the last several weeks that the ceased to be extra work, and in a few cases-- lordy!

So the notion that, as a student teacher, you are providing a valuable labor-saving service for the district is just not so. And that's okay. I took on many student teachers despite the extra work it made because I believed it was a way to keep my own professional muscles exercised and because if I wanted to see a new crop of good teachers enter the field, then I had to play my part in helping that happen. 

But pay them? That seemed backwards to me. And I suspect it seems that way to many of the "Nobody paid me to student teach" crowd.


College has gotten increasingly expensive. Really expensive. Anyone who says, "Well, I just worked my way through school" is just showing their ignorance. In my region, student teachers usually teach close enough to campus that they can keep staying in a dorm room--but that's not cheap. And the costs of commuting are not cheap either. And a teacher's salary is not going to work off that debt very quickly.

Over the past couple of decades, an increasing number of professions have become prohibitively expensive to enter. It's not just the education, but that the entryway now lies through an unpaid internship, and that creates a variety of barriers to entering the field. And I defy you to name any field-- journalism, advertising, medicine-- where the ability to live for a year or two without any income is an actual qualification for the job. 

Loan forgiveness and grants can lower financial barriers to entering the teaching profession, but a stipend for student teaching also makes sense. Use state or federal money. Districts that can afford it would be smart to offer stipends to student teachers as a step toward recruiting folks to fill the district's empty teaching spots. 

Student teaching is a crazy chapter in a baby teacher's life-- you're still in college, but not really, and can you even do this, and why aren't there enough hours in the day, and there definitely enough hours for you to maintain solid contact with your human support system, and graduation is almost here and what are you going to do with your life, anyway, and did you even remember to eat today? A stipend could reduce worries by a hair and serve as a gesture of support for your professional choice.

Most importantly, it could reduce, by even a little bit, financial barriers to entering the profession. It may just seem like nickels and dimes, but if you're going to be a teacher, getting used to nickels and dimes will be valuable.


  1. David Donaldson from the National Center for Grow Your Own goes a step further. "Why shouldn't you be allowed to become a teacher for free and get paid while doing it?"

  2. I don’t think school districts should be paying student teachers. The district is required to have a supervising teacher present every day the student teacher is there. If the college/university wants to offer a stipend or reduction in fees as part of student teaching, that’s on them, but you cannot expect public school taxpayers to subsidize student teachers.

  3. Once again, this is why we can't have nice things. The basic excuse not to pay teachers is that we are too cheap and don't value their work. That the supervising teacher has to do work doesn't matter (they need to paid for that too!)

    The requirement to get my certificate was that I had to be in control of a classroom for eight weeks. My cooperating teacher wasn't involved in the day to day work of the classroom during that time. I assume other states are similar. There was a four week period to release control before and after. I was also in the classroom for six months total as an alternative route teacher. I was doing useful work.

    Either you want a diverse group of trained, qualified teachers or you don't. If you do, you pay them like other fields do as apprentices.

  4. When I student taught in the mid-nineties, my biggest complaint was not that I wasn’t being paid, it was that I paid more than $5000 out of state tuition to have a single seminar class taught by two TAs. The bulk of my instruction was being given by the two certified teachers I student taught with, each of whom received $150 for them instructing me for half a semester. I also paid housing, food, teaching supplies as always, and we got a lecture on how we needed to dress professionally. It was incredibly expensive for me and the people doing most of the work, my cooperating teachers, got virtually nothing.

    Classmates in other fields were utterly shocked that student teachers didn’t get paid during their internships, and when they found out we also had to pay full tuition for the privilege they were flabbergasted.

    Even a small stipend or a reduction in tuition would have been a boon. The disrespect of not being paid and the situation it set us up in - to expect to be poorly paid, to provide our own supplies for students, and to work flat out for 60 hours or more a week - seems to justify the generally poor treatment of teachers. I think a stipend paid by the federal or state government might actually address some of the ongoing issues.