Sunday, October 30, 2022

Thoughts on unpaid labor and the teaching profession

This morning, I had someone text me with a "hey have you seen this thing where some student teacher was on TikTok saying they should be paid for their internship?" followed by something to the effect of "kids these days." 

Apparently one of my choral ed colleagues had responded to this undergrad on TikTok (or by posting his own thing?) by saying that student teaching is a class, and he's doing all the work teaching them how to do something they can't already do, so therefore interns should not be paid.

There's a lot to unpack here. I'm going to go in backwards order because I think that will help me explain better.

First, the internship is not a "class." Yes, it's credits they have to register and pay for, and in that respect it's a "class" but it's not a class in the respect that we expect them to go in knowing nothing. In fact, we expect them to go in and actually be able to do the full job (with a metric ton of extra paperwork), but with the support and scaffolding of an experienced mentor teacher. Being a mentor teacher (at least, a good one) IS a lot of work, because of course mistakes will be made, and the extra planning for guidance and correction is work. I have no dispute with that.

So I'm going to start off with my first point that mentor teachers should be paid, and I don't mean a pittance of $250 or credits towards license renewal. They should be paid their market rate hourly wage for the minimum 10-20 extra hours of work per week they put in which is an idea supported by research on the importance of mentor teachers. But this idea that student teachers come in completely unprepared and the mentors have to build ALL the skills from scratch is not accurate, either. Unfortunately, we all know there's no nuance with social media.

To that point, experienced teachers need to hear: Many colleges are limited in the number of credits we are allowed to require for teacher preparation. If you currently have more than 10 years experience, you probably remember taking more than 4 years to complete your music education degree, and probably between 18 and 22 credits every single term. Undergrad programs are not allowed to do that anymore. But let's be honest, even if it was a ten year preparation program, we all know there's no way to teach them everything. But it means programs have started focusing on aspects of teaching that we know are more important in the long term (problem solving, how to look things up, etc) but lacking in the "I know how to analyze figured bass perfectly" aspects. The result is mentor teachers probably are perceiving interns as having "holes" in their knowledge and I'm sure that's where my colleague is coming from. So yes, the mentor is still teaching the intern some things, but that was always the case anyway, and doesn't change that that should be paid labor and the intern is not a blank slate. 

The perception also that this current generation of student teachers (or students in general) are more entitled than previous generations is absolute old people nonsense. I do think there are some major differences in how younger people interact with others because of the prevalence of technology, and that makes them appear self-involved (and more prone to anxiety-related disorders). But the awareness that makes them anxious comes from that same technology---knowledge of the bigger picture, the wider world, and other things that previous generations were protected/kept from---and, point three: that makes them far more intolerant of injustices. So while older people might react with "meh, I survived it, toughen up" the younger people are going Why? WHY should we "toughen up"? Why should we be ok with being underpaid and ignored and underappreciated? Why should we accept a full unpaid work day and then go wait tables for 7 hours? 

I mean, from a teacher educator standpoint, I want my undergrads to have time to fully reflect on their day, time to refine plans, time to research new ideas, time to collect and create templates that will save them time later when they're on their own, ESPECIALLY because of the credit cap! If they're working even a part time job, they can't do ANY of that. They spend their entire internship in survival mode and then we wonder why the attrition rate is 50% in the first 5 years. Imagine if we just gave student teachers a tuition waiver so they didn't have to take out loans the final semester/quarters of their 4th year how much difference would that make? Or they could use their loans to live on so they don't have to work a second job? Why are we ok with indoctrinating undergrads with the idea that to be a teacher it's ok to need a second job? Especially when we know wages have been stagnant and the buying power of a second job isn't as high as it was when WE (the older people) went to school?

I was THRILLED when I saw this story about the Michigan legislature working on a way to pay student teachers. Their reasoning was basically that student teaching is like a medical residency (rotations of age levels, types of classes, guided practice but the expectation of independence) and we should treat it as such, especially if we intend to a) retain ANYONE in the profession and b) expand the current majority demographic of teachers to include more than middle and upper class white folks. Michigan, I hope you get it passed, I hope it works. I hope that becomes the model everywhere. 

Here's the real point of this essay: The current model of education everywhere, not just in the United States, relies 100% on massive amounts of unpaid labor. So is the internship meant to train people how to do the job well? Or is it to train them how to accept the exploitative system as it is? If it's the former, we should be proud that undergrads want to change the system. But if it's the latter, why are we still wondering why attrition and retention is such a problem?











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