In New Teach Plus Brief, Illinois Early Childhood Educators Advocate for Accessible and Valuable Student Teaching Experiences

In New Teach Plus Brief, Illinois Early Childhood Educators Advocate for Accessible and Valuable Student Teaching Experiences

Teachers Call on Lawmakers to Remove Barriers to Student Teachers’ Compensation 

Springfield, Illinois, December 6, 2023 — Gov. J.B. Pritzker has made early childhood education and care a priority, creating a stand-alone agency to better serve the youngest students and their families. In order to ensure a pool of effective teachers in those classrooms, aspiring educators participating in student teaching must make a livable wage. So say Teach Plus Illinois Early Childhood Educator Policy Fellows in their new brief, “Student Teaching is Unpaid & That’s How It’s Always Been”: Barriers to IL Early Childhood Educator Licensure. The Teach Plus Fellows, all of whom are  early childhood educators in Illinois, found that some educator preparation programs in the state do not allow student teachers to receive payment for their classroom time and are calling on the legislature to change regulations to ensure all student teachers receive equitable compensation.

“If you work in the field of early childhood education, you hear about student teaching as a barrier all the time,” said Aubry Stapleton, Teach Plus’ Early Childhood Education Policy Manager. “There are so many amazing educators in our field  who have had to forgo getting higher education simply because the current system of unpaid student teaching creates situations in which a person has to choose between finishing their degree or paying their bills and putting food on the table. No educator in our state should be faced with such a choice.”

For their project, Teach Plus Policy Fellows surveyed 66 participants who had finished their student teaching or were currently enrolled, seeking to answer questions around what practices in student teaching worked well for them and what their perspectives are on how to make their experience valuable and accessible. The group also contacted  institutions of higher education throughout the state to determine their early childhood education student teaching processes and requirements, and interviewed universities to get a robust picture of teacher preparation programs.

“After working in early childhood education for a while, I was fortunate to participate in a teacher licensure program that supported me in many ways, including allowing me to student teach in my current classroom, which meant I still was getting paid. That program made a teaching license and a master’s degree accessible and allowed me to advance in the field. Many others are not as lucky.  All aspiring educators should receive similar support to help them advance, thereby increasing equity in the field and providing many more diverse, highly qualified teachers,” said Katie Viernum, 2023-2024 Teach Plus Illinois Early Childhood Educator Senior Policy Fellow and lead teacher at Loyola University Preschool in Chicago, Illinois, who co-authored the brief.

The teachers’ findings are:

  1.  Student teaching is beneficial for future teachers. Participants highlighted strong mentor teachers and genuine classroom experiences as positive characteristics of student teaching.
  2.  Expenses (particularly the inability to be paid for student teaching) during licensure programs can be a financial burden and/or barrier to preservice teachers.
  3. Different programs have varying requirements leading to a wide range of experiences for newly licensed teachers. Lack of flexibility can be a major barrier for educators already working in the field.

One survey respondent stated that: “I was fortunate that I already had a working relationship with one of my cooperating teachers. …I genuinely felt that both of my cooperating teachers wanted to help me learn.”

The teachers’ recommendations are:

  1. Maintain a student teaching element of teacher preparation programs that incorporates flexibility and differentiation based on experience.
  2. Universally allow student teaching to be a paid experience by prohibiting programs from preventing student teachers from getting paid, especially for incumbent educators.
  3. Provide reasonable compensation via stipends to ensure paid student teaching experiences.

“It doesn’t matter if you are the classroom lead, a student teacher, assistant, etc… Everyone should be paid for time worked if it is benefitting an entity,” said another survey respondent.

About Teach Plus
The mission of Teach Plus is to empower excellent, experienced, and diverse teachers to take leadership over key policy and practice issues that affect their students’ success. In pursuing our mission, Teach Plus is guided by our Student Opportunity Mandate: All students should have the opportunity to achieve their potential in an education system defined by its commitment to equity, its responsiveness to individual needs, and its ability to prepare students for postsecondary success. Since 2009, Teach Plus has developed thousands of teacher leaders across the country to exercise their leadership in shaping education policy and improving teaching and learning for students.