In Public Impact’s Opportunity Culture school models, we envision roles for a variety of support staff who help excellent teachers and teams extend their reach to more students. Examples include learning coaches, digital lab monitors, assistant teachers, and tutors. These staff members don’t work in isolation, but as critical parts of their teams.
These positions typically have shorter workweeks than teachers (40 hours or less versus teachers’ actual average of 50 to 55) and are narrower in scope, making pay lower. The pay differential allows a district to provide substantially higher pay for teacher-leaders—proven excellent teachers who take full responsibility for leading their teams. Under the leadership of these excellent teachers, other teachers and support staff can learn and succeed.
If you think that sounds like a great environment for student teachers to learn great teaching from the start, the iZone initiative of Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS) agrees. Beginning in 2013–14, MNPS is creating a paid one-year “aspiring teacher” role targeting student teachers, available at three schools in the iZone.
The district has worked with local teacher preparation programs to develop the aspiring teacher role. In the United States, student teachers rarely get paid. In contrast, as district employees, these aspiring teachers will receive a salary and benefits, along with credit for being student teachers while they serve full-time in three Opportunity Culture schools under the district’s highest-performing educators. They also get first shots at full-time jobs at the end of their year. The aspiring teachers’ $15,800 salary and benefits make it much more attractive than a standard unpaid student teacher position.
The response? In the three-week application window, the district received nearly 100 applications.
“We thought that the ‘aspiring teacher’ role would appeal to graduate students earning their degree in teaching, but we didn’t anticipate just how many candidates would apply,” said Alan Coverstone, executive director of the iZone. “We’re really excited about the type of talent this role can bring into our schools, especially the schools engaged in some of our most ambitious turnaround efforts.”
MNPS is targeting students in a master’s degree program, at least this year. Aspiring teachers may also come from other backgrounds or remain as an aspiring teacher beyond the first year, though the district expects one year to be the norm.
Aspiring teachers will do much of what student teachers do now. But MNPS expects this to be a more robust experience as they train under a school’s highest-performing educators, participating fully as members of the core instructional staff in planning, professional learning communities, and teaching. This role also lets aspiring teachers focus more than traditional student teachers would on relationships with students and families, aspects the district considers critical to successful teaching. Overall, this training should be more rigorous than typical part-time student teaching roles and deepen student teachers’ engagement. And it pays.
Equally important, MNPS expects to build a pool of candidates who will have the knowledge, skills, and experience to be highly effective teachers faster once they become full-fledged teachers—potentially staying at the same school following their “aspiring” year. These teachers may have a better shot at entering the profession on a clear trajectory for professional growth and leadership than those doing traditional, part-time student teaching.
When we first started drafting Opportunity Culture school models two years ago, a group of elite Teach Plus Policy Fellows advised us. The “paid student teacher turned full-fledged team member” was their idea. We’re delighted to see their brilliant thoughts coming to life, and we hope to see more similar efforts soon.
The Opportunity Culture models are full of career paths and variations that solve so many of the problems caused by isolated, inflexible, uniform teaching roles in most schools today.
In the case of student teachers: Why not enter the teaching profession by learning from the best, on the job, and getting paid for it? It’s a question aspiring teachers across the nation should be asking.