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What is Student Teaching?

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.

Student teaching is a graded university course

When you student teach, you do 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 while you student teach– writing essays and doing other homework assignments related to your student teaching experience.

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….

Student teaching is the same amount of responsibility 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 talk to 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– in theory at least– 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. Speaking of which….

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 our as a teacher’s aide  in the first few weeks of their student teaching, and 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.

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