Education Lab

Should student teachers have to pay for in-classroom experience?

In a 2017 file photo, students cross in front of Madden Library at Fresno State on the first day of fall classes.
In a 2017 file photo, students cross in front of Madden Library at Fresno State on the first day of fall classes.

Teaching students at Fresno State are crying foul over a policy that requires them to pay 12 percent of their paychecks back to the university during their internships, on top of their $3,700-per-semester tuition.

As part of the requirements for the multiple-subject teaching credential, Kremen School of Education students like Yelixza Hernandez have to tally up a certain number of hours in the classroom. Students can meet this requirement through the internship program, but Hernandez balked at the notion of paying the university another $530 per month.

“That’s money I could be using on my students instead,” she said.

Hernandez said she tried to find a workaround. By applying for a short-term staff permit, she thought she could get the experience required for her credential, without paying the fee for the internship program.

The kind of permit Hernandez wanted allows a school district to fill “an acute staffing need” by hiring individuals who have degrees in liberal studies, or a certain number of units in multiple subject areas.

But Hernandez said Fresno State shot her down without citing a written policy against her request.

Fresno State spokeswoman Lisa Boyles said the people who could speak to that decision — Associate Dean Laura Alamillo and Multiple Subject Program Coordinator Lisa Bennett — are on vacation.

However, after a request for an explanation from The Bee, Bennett replied to Hernandez, allowing her to to complete the program through the short-term permit as she requested.

“Our understanding from area districts is that they strongly prefer candidates who are intern eligible to serve as interns rather than STsPs,” says an email from Bennett provided by Hernandez.

Hernandez said she now wants the same treatment for all other students in her situation.

Internship program not mandatory

The internship program is not mandatory for would-be teachers. Students can rack up the required classroom hours through a more traditional track, by volunteering in a classroom under a master teacher.

But another student teacher, who asked for anonymity for fear of retaliation by the university, said volunteering during the day on top of taking classes during the evening is not feasible for students who have to support themselves throughout the program. Working as a lead teacher, either through the internship program or via a short-term permit, is the only way to earn money and get classroom hours at the same time.

The fee for the internship program was not made clear to students, according to Becca, a student teacher who asked to be identified by her first name only. She said she feels Fresno State withheld information about other ways to get classroom experience in order to steer students toward the internship.

The student teachers may not have any recourse if Fresno State won’t allow them to use the alternative permit.

An FAQ on the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing website states that teacher candidates must complete the coursework required by their Commission-approved program. They cannot appeal to the commission directly.

“The Commission sets the standards for the programs. The institutions develop their programs based upon those guidelines and have the authority to require additional standards or courses beyond the minimum requirements set by the Commission,” the website states.

Fresno State says it’s worth it

Boyles said the fee for the internship program is not new. It’s allowed by the CTC to cover the costs of operating the internship program, which includes finding qualified applicants and communicating with districts.

For their 12 percent, Fresno State interns are supposed to have access to resources throughout their first year of teaching, such as mentorship, professional development programs and $200 toward classroom supplies.

“There are internship programs in private institutions that do not charge a 12% fee. Those institutions typically pay for their programs by charging a tuition rate significantly higher than the tuition rate at Fresno State,” says a statement from the university. “When the Fresno State tuition and the 12% fee are combined, the total cost at Fresno State is more than competitive with the total tuition cost alone, for similar intern programs at other institutions.”

But Hernandez said Fresno Unified provides many of those same resources, and she wants to have the flexibility to spend the money as she chooses. She estimates that she’s spent $700 on classroom supplies so far this summer.

Fresno Unified is in the midst of a hiring push to fill 41 vacant teaching positions, which the district hopes to accomplish by the fall, according to spokeswoman Amy Idsvoog. Superintendent Bob Nelson had mentioned to The Bee in a prior interview that the district tries to hire as many Kremen School graduates as possible.

Hernandez, a native of Firebaugh, said she comes from a family of Valley teachers and always planned to follow in their footsteps as a fourth-grade teacher.

She transferred to Fresno State specifically for its multiple-subject credential program. However, she said she thinks the changes made last year have been detrimental to the quality of the program.

“I know the value of a good education enough to know I’m not getting one right now,” she said.

Earlier this year, the Kremen School was dinged by the National Council on Teacher Quality in a report that put the elementary education program in the 19th percentile among similar programs nationwide.

The program got D’s and F’s in teacher knowledge of elementary math and reading, and C’s for student teaching experience.

Aleksandra Appleton, @aleksappleton, 559-341-3747