Michigan State University education students speak out against inequities in internship program

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By CHLOE TROFATTER
Capital News Service

LANSING — Do teacher preparation programs keep future educators away from the field?

Teacher certification in the state fell 24% between 2013 and 2017, according to a 2020 survey for the Michigan Education Association.

The study also revealed that more than one in 10 elementary and secondary educators plan to change careers in the next three years.

Lack of respect, inadequate salaries and overly demanding workloads were cited as some of the main forces that caused them to leave the field.

Michigan State University students expressed similar sentiments in a 2020 survey of the College of Education’s fifth-year internship program. Interns are placed with school districts to gain teaching experience and gain certification.

The need for the survey was prompted by a financial aid meeting for seniors enrolling in the program for the 2021-22 school year.

In it, Olivia Gundrum, a senior high school major, was told for the first time about the cost of the program: a year-long unpaid internship – colloquially known as student teaching – alongside a course load of 24 credits.

“Suddenly I realized how expensive the next year of my life was going to be,” Gundrum said.

“Right now, how the program is designed, for a year of your life, you’re going to be a full-time student but you’re not going to graduate, and you’re going to be working full-time but you’re not going to get paid” , she said.

She expressed her disappointment with the cost of the program at the meeting, and the administrators told her that they receive the same concerns every year, according to Gundrum.

“It told me that the faculty and administration are well aware that this program is inequitable”

Michigan Education Association President Paula Herbart said, “One of the barriers that keeps people from getting into education is the high cost of education.” The MEA is the largest union of teachers and other school personnel in the state.

After the meeting, Gundrum and fifth-year intern Julia Alvarez interviewed MSU College of Education students about their thoughts on the program and what they would like to see from the college.

One student said, “This year made me rethink my decision to become an educator. It’s not worth the stress, financial difficulties, mental health issues and exhaustion.

Gundrum said, “What I hope is that through our empowering Spartan educators, we have made it inevitable.”

The survey has inspired monthly virtual town halls to give students a chance to speak, said Gail Richmond, who became director of MSU’s teacher preparation program in July.

“I appreciate the students for taking the initiative to communicate their concerns,” said Richmond. “Obviously this is all new to me.”

Richmond said she focused on relieving the program’s financial strain.

“Can we shorten the program without sacrificing quality? Can we offer more opportunities for advanced degrees? ” she says.

Most student teaching internships across the state — such as those at Central Michigan University, Hope College, and Calvin University — last for one semester during their final undergraduate semester.

The University of Michigan program, similar to that of Michigan State, lasts an additional year after graduation, but students also finish with a master’s degree.

Brittany Perreault, president of Aspiring Educators of Michigan, the student arm of MEA, said, “The problems we see in the MSU curriculum are problems that all colleges and universities face.”

MSU will pilot a number of programs next fall in the Detroit Public School Community District and several other districts to ease financial stress. They partner to find low-cost housing for interns, allow them to work as paid substitutes, and provide opportunities for them to potentially work in the district after the internship.

Alvarez said, “As the #1 program in the nation, Michigan State has the opportunity to be true pioneers and change the way we think about education. Unpaid internships in general are simply not acceptable because they are not accessible.

And Perreault said, “At a time when our state faces a severe teacher shortage crisis, compounded by the global pandemic, changes must be made to remove the barriers that prevent many students from considering a career in classroom.

“What we’re doing at Michigan State is just the beginning,” she said.

Editors: This story was updated March 31, 2021 to show that several school districts, in addition to Detroit, are participating in MSU pilot programs to ease financial pressures on student teachers.

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