Undergraduate Internships in Urban Classrooms a Good Idea
Over the past three weeks I had the wonderful opportunity to
work with an undergraduate intern in her sophomore year from Amherst
College. She dedicated this
portion of her January recess to observe, assist, and finally try a few days of
teaching in my classroom, during a tough stretch of preparation for the state
My intern was from the Midwest, and had never spent time in
the “inner city” or in a public middle school (in fact, she was home-schooled
for most of her own education).
But the sometimes-rough edges of my classroom, the school, and its
surrounding neighborhood did not seem to deter her. She was incredibly committed, non-judgmental, and
enthusiastic about teaching. My
students and I came to truly appreciate her calm presence and thoughtful
observations and suggestions.
Though she came in a little shy to work with the entire class at once,
she got past it. She wrote in a
letter to me, “You…gave me confidence to get up in front of the class and
actually teach. I surprised myself
by hardly being nervous at all!”
I was thrilled when at the end of three weeks she shared
that she would like to become a teacher in a public school, and was strongly
considering teaching middle school!
Score one for the team!
I was also pleased when she told me she would like to get
her masters degree before entering the classroom. In her words, “I just think I would be so much more
confident that way.” She mentioned
that she knows her experience at my school was positive in large part because
of all the work us teachers had put into setting up our classrooms to be how
It was somehow relieving to me to realize that this very
young (age nineteen? twenty?), aspiring teacher understands the immense amount
of work and skill it takes to teach, and that she is still so excited about
doing it. I know one day, not so
far from now, her students will be very lucky to learn from her. That I had anything to do with this
(and during test prep no less!) really makes me really happy.
A few notes about undergraduates and the choice to teach
At some point, my intern mentioned that Amherst College does
not have an education department and offers only a few related courses through
other departments (like Literature and the Teaching of Writing--or something
close to that). This was strange
to me, because my alma mater, Brown University had a vibrant education
department with which many undergraduates were involved.
When I asked her if she knew why there was no education
department at Amherst, she said, “Well I guess the idea behind it is that since
we are paying so much for our college education, most people would choose
careers that pay more than teaching does.” Wow, I thought.
I completely understand what she is saying, but it came as a blow
nonetheless, and reminded me once again that I make a significant quality of
life sacrifice in remaining a classroom teacher, when so many other,
higher-paying professions are available to me.
On the other hand, she mentioned that, due to the
current economic crisis, a major shift is occurring on campus. Normally a high percentage of Amherst
students go into banking. Since
this is not an easy option today, many more students are considering programs
like Teach For America or NYC, DC, or Chicago Teaching Fellows, which promise
an unusual amount of job security in troubled times. The result is that said programs are becoming increasingly
competitive. Ironically, candidates are looking for ways to improve their
resumes—some undergraduate interns attempt to become more competitive
applicants for these programs by showing an early interest in teaching.
I wonder how increased competition for one of the more
secure jobs in the nation will play out for our profession and schools over the
next few years. Will it up the
standards for who gets to enter the classroom without training and what kind of
commitment they will need to demonstrate?
Will it influence many potential candidates to spend time in schools
prior to applying; and will some make the choice, like my intern, to get a
[first image is the author's: taken of a previous student teacher I worked with in a different school second image found at blog.derekjansen.com]