I’ve been answering questions about my teaching certificate since the summer of 2016.
Can you really teach in a public school without first spending four years earning an education degree?
Don’t you have to be a student teacher before you get your own classroom?
Will a school pay you to be a teacher if your certificate says you are just an intern?
In Arizona, the answers to those questions are yes, no and yes.
I’m what the Arizona Department of Education calls a teaching intern — someone with a bit of life experience and a college degree in a subject area that schools are short of.
Arizona deemed me worthy of having my own middle school Spanish classroom after it took a look at my Department of Public Safety clearance, my college transcripts, a score on a standardized test showing I really do know Spanish, and a letter from a school district promising me a job.
Interns typically make the same amount that first- and second-year teachers do. We are, after all, doing exactly the same work.
In exchange for my certificate, I promised to complete a state-approved secondary education degree and teach for two years under the supervision of mentor teachers who would send regular evaluations of my work to my school district and my college.
Phew! The process claimed most of my working hours and free time for nearly two years. It also cost slightly more than $6,000, when I add up tuition, textbooks and school supplies, and the bundle I have spent on teaching certificates.
One of my proudest accomplishments
Now that I am done, I can categorically say that earning my teaching degree has been one of my proudest accomplishments. And teaching Spanish to sixth, seventh and eighth graders in the Tempe Elementary School District has been one of the most joyful experiences of my life.
If you know teachers or have kids in Arizona public schools, you probably have run into a teaching intern. You might not have realized it — school districts call interns things like “teachers in residence” — but interns are teaching subjects like advanced high school math and science, elementary school special education, music, drama and more.
The state education department has certified about 1,500 of us right now.
Typically we teach subjects that other teachers don’t want or are not qualified to teach. In my case, I had my pick of job offers both in 2016 and 2017 because even though Arizona is a bilingual state, few people actually have college degrees in the subject.
I have a master’s degree in Spanish and spent more than three decades using Spanish on the job as a newspaper reporter before I decided to share my knowledge in the classroom. Long-term substitute teachers filled my job for several years before I was hired by the Tempe Elementary School District this school year.
All of my peers in Rio Salado College’s Teacher-In-Residence program have similar backgrounds. One was a college theater professor before he decided it would be fun to try high school, others are visual artists, some are heritage speakers of Spanish who want to teach as a second career. I’m not mentioning engineers or business professional because they have their own program for STEM — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — teachers.
Teaching is a joyful way to make a living
As I write this, thousands of Arizona teachers have walked off the job in protest of their low salaries and poor working conditions as part of the #redfored movement. While I wholeheartedly support #redfored — my pay is a little less than half of what I earned when I wrote about education for Arizona’s largest daily newspaper — I also worry that future interns and education will be put off by stories of low wages and poor working conditions.
Yes, my salary is low. but it is comparable to what I would have made in an entry-level marketing and public relations job — another field where my newspaper skills would have easily transferred. And I don’t have to work 12 months a year for my salary.
Yes, I spend time after hours grading, doing lesson plans and exchanging e-mails with parents. But I don’t find any of these tasks difficult. I used the same writing and editing skills at the newspaper. I know many other workers would find use for their skills and knowledge in a public school as well.
But those things really don’t matter to me. After a long, stressful career covering the news I now wake up excited about — instead of dreading — the day.