If you’re thinking of becoming a teacher, you’ve probably heard the term “student teaching.” But what is student teaching, and why is it so important? That question can be answered in two parts–what student teaching is–and what it isn’t.
It’s a Graded University Course
When you student teach, you act as a K-12 teacher. But you also act as a university student, completing an education degree requirement. So you’ll need to meet academic responsibilities at the same time. For instance, you may need to write essays and do other homework assignments related to your experiences “on the job.”
Student Teaching Is Months Long
Because it needs to double as a class, most student teaching experiences are about a semester long— give or take a week or two. In alternative certification programs, however, lengths can be a lot different, ranging from 8 weeks to a year.
Student Teaching Is Usually Unpaid
The norm in teacher colleges is for student teaching to be a class–something you pay for rather than a job you get paid to do. Getting paid for student teaching is not unheard of, but it is rare. In spite of this, student teaching will feel like a job. Speaking of which…
The Same Responsibilities as Full Teaching
When you student teach, you’ll have the same responsibilities as a fully licensed teacher. You’ll make lesson plans, lead a classroom, take care of students’ individual learning needs–and even communicate with their parents.
Student Teaching Isn’t Classroom Observation
Student teaching is the most common kind of required fieldwork for an education degree. In fact, it is universally required in education degree programs. An almost-as-common fieldwork requirement is classroom observation, which is distinctly different from student teaching.
Classroom observation involves simply going to a school and observing a classroom in action. In reality, the licensed teacher who runs the classroom will probably ask the student observer to step in and help with the teaching, performing work similar to that of a teacher’s aide. Which brings me to my next point!
Student Teaching Is (Usually) Not Teacher’s Aide Work
In rare cases, a teacher’s college may allow a paid teacher’s aide position to count as a form of student teaching. In other uncommon instances, a student teacher may start out as a teacher’s aide. This may last for the first few weeks of their student teaching. Then they would slowly assume full responsibility for their classroom.
However, in the vast majority of student teaching experiences, a teacher’s aide position will not meet student teaching requirements. And student teaching work will not resemble classroom aide work.
Student Teaching Is–and Isn’t–Paid Work in an Alternative Certification Program
In alternative certification programs, teachers are usually given a chance to teach full time at full pay while they earn their licenses. This kind of paid work is student teaching from a legal standpoint. Teacher licensing boards treat paid work in an alternative certification program as a way of fulfilling state student teaching requirements.
However, alternative certification programs and the schools that hire their not-yet-licensed teachers do not think of these paid positions as student teaching. They think of these positions as professional employment. So if you are interviewing for a teaching position through an alternative certification program, don’t refer to the job as “student teaching.” This will come off as confusing at best, insulting at worst.