Category: Education funding

What’s a teaching intern?

What’s a teaching intern?

Fingerprint clearance card? Check.

Proof of immunity to measles? Check.

College transcripts? Check.

Professional references? Check.

Arizona Department of Education teaching intern certificate? Check.

Wait? What? The state is letting interns teach in public schools?

It’s a question friends and acquaintances have asked since last November, when I left a long career as a newspaper reporter and editor to start a two-year teacher training program. It has come up even more frequently since I signed a one-year contract to teach middle school Spanish a few weeks ago.

In a perfect world, all teachers would spend four years studying education theory and student teaching before graduating from college. Then they would spend another year or so  co-teaching with a more experienced educator before standing in front of a classroom of their own — as the New York Times recently recommended.

In a perfect world, there would be no shortage of teachers for difficult subjects like math, science, special education and world languages. Teachers would not leave the profession in frustration over long hours and low salaries. And more students would graduate from college wanting to be teachers instead of business leaders.

But we don’t live in a perfect world.

For me, a life-long Spanish learner with a master’s degree in the subject but no education degree, an intern certificate is a win-win. I’ve accepted a difficult-to-fill spot and will spend the next two years teaching full time and taking education courses at Rio Salado College. If all goes well, I will have a full teaching certificate in two years.

Teaching interns take hard-to-fill jobs

Arizona created the teaching intern program a decade ago, when national and state officials decided that too many schools were hiring uncertified teachers for hard-to-fill spots. Many had little or no training in the subjects they were teaching.

In contrast, an intern is required to have at least a bachelor’s degree, to have passed a comprehensive exam in the subject they wish to teach, to have enrolled in a teacher education program and to have passed a criminal background check.

The program is helpful, but not a panacea, said education department spokesman Charles Tack.

While the state is short thousands of teachers — more than half of  state officials who responded to a 2014 survey said they were struggling to fill openings — Arizona only had about 880 teaching interns last year. In the hardest-to-fill categories, only about 2 percent of math, science and technology teachers and only about 3 percent of special education teachers hold intern certificates.

My teaching intern certificate from the Arizona Department of Education is valid for a year.

Seed planted five years ago

I learned about Arizona’s teaching intern program five years ago when I wrote a news article about the subject. I met retirees starting second careers as special education teachers and recent graduates leaving jobs in business to teach high school chemistry and geometry.  As interns, they earned the same pay as a starting teachers. They both taught and took education classes full time.

I saw the interns’ passion for the classroom and was inspired. I thought of my own master’s degree in Spanish that I had used in a journalism career instead of teaching. Would I also be happy as a teacher? As time passed, I decided the answer was yes.

When I had the opportunity to take an early-retirement buyout last fall, I enrolled in Rio Salado College’s Teacher in Residence program. 

What it takes to become an intern

Like most major life changes, becoming a teaching intern was not easy.

After passing Rio’s entrance exams, I headed to Oaxaca, Mexico and spent most of December at a school that helped me prep for my Spanish proficiency exam. The three-hour test included advanced grammar and questions about Spanish and Latin American culture, politics, arts and literature. It included a speaking presentation and an essay.

Learning about traditional ways to make tamales was part of my studies in Mexico before becoming a teaching intern.


While taking Spanish language immersion classes, I observed teacher protests in Mexico.

After passing the proficiency test,  I started classes at Rio Salado. Arizona requires educators to be prepared to teach students who arrive speaking languages other than English. So I took a structured language immersion course. I also took the state’s required Arizona and American Constitution classes and coursework in brain development and lesson planning.

In June, I headed back to Mexico for more language and cultural immersion. I took language classes in Mexico City, visited the pyramids at Teotihuacan, observed teacher protests and had long conversations in Spanish with a variety of people about the differences between life here and life there. I look forward to sharing what I learned in my classes.

Job openings a pleasant surprise

Over the last nine months, I have been overwhelmed by support and encouragement from educators who have welcomed me to their field. And I was pleasantly surprised by the number of job openings for Spanish teachers in metro Phoenix. I applied at eight districts, heard from four that were interested in hiring teaching interns and had interviews at four schools. I accepted an offer with the Kyrene School District, which has an outstanding training program for new teachers.

School officials must sign forms stating that they  support the interns they hire, so I felt honored to interview at so many places. Not only will Kyrene staffers mentor me, they also will allow professors from Rio Salado into my classroom to monitor my progress.

Please follow my blog

I’ve launched The Classroom Scoop to share information about education trends as well as my personal journey from the newsroom to the classroom.

I hope you will join me by following The Classroom Scoop. I welcome your comments and suggestions. Please email me at .


CTE students more likely to graduate, join middle class

Is it time for career and technical education classes to be considered core courses? A growing number of experts are saying yes.

A couple of decades ago, school counselors began shying away from suggesting career and technical education classes to all students who showed even a hint of college potential.

Never mind the state-of-the art welding equipment, culinary tools, graphic design computers and model auto shops, emergency rooms and radio stations just waiting for high school students to show up and learn marketable skills.

But now there are not enough welders, carpenters, machinists and other skilled workers to fill high-paying open jobs in Arizona – and across the nation. And there are thousands if not millions of college grads who are frustrated that their business or communications degrees have not helped them land the jobs that they dreamed of.

Doug Pruitt, board chairman of the Sundt Companies, Inc., was recently named the 2016 Hero of Education by the Maricopa Community Colleges Foundation.

In his speech, the chair of the Tempe-based construction company, praised high school and community college level CTE classes for creating solid workforce members.

Skilled technical workers are the foundation of Arizona’s economy and the base of the state’s middle class, he said.

Data from the Arizona Department and the national Thomas Fordham Institute show that students who take career-education classes while in high school are more likely to graduate and attend post-secondary school.

I recently chatted with Dante Fierros, president-owner of Nichols Precision, a Tempe company that designs and creates machine parts for aerospace, defense, medical and other high tech equipment.

He would love right now to hire a couple of high school graduates who took CTE precision machining classes and pay them $15 an hour while they train for more technically advanced jobs.  But finding qualified graduates is a challenge, he said.

Attending college while working could be part of the apprentice’s plan, said Fierros, who serves in leadership roles in a number of employment and manufacturing advisory groups including the National Association of Manufacturers, the Governor’s Workforce Arizona Council and the Arizona Manufacturing Partnership.

Arizona Department of Education data shows that 98 percent of high school students in career and technical education programs graduate, compared with an overall state graduation rate of 76 percent.

Typically, CTE students attend their normal high schools half of the day and then spend the other half at joint technical education district schools where they learn job skills that will help them land positions ranging from chefs to veterinary technicians.

The Fordham study, released last month, found that CTE students student were not only more likely to graduate but to also enroll in at least a two-year college, be employed and earn higher wages.

A great example is Carter Hill, who enrolled in Arizona State University’s mechanical engineering program after studying precision machining and earning a couple of professional certificates in the field at the East Valley Institute of Technology. He also was an A student at Mountain Pointe High School in Ahwatukee.

Since graduating he has had a number of machining and engineering internships.

“There is still a misconception that EVIT is for kids who aren’t going anywhere in life,” Hill told me a couple years ago when I interviewed him for an article about college-bound CTE students. “Most people here have a really clear idea of what they are doing.”

How well do kids in your neighborhood read?

Last summer, when AzMERIT scores were released, Arizona residents learned that more than half of the state’s third graders were not reading at grade level.

Last week, Arizona’s Office of the Auditor General chided the Arizona Department of Education for not making sure that schools are making good use of an annual $40 million allocation to bring weak readers up to speed.

But when the Legislature in 2010 approved Move On When Reading, which requires third graders to master reading or be held back, it did not include a plan for a state check-up on use of the funds.

And. because Arizonans pride themselves on local school district control — remember all the fighting over Common Core and the Arizona College and Career Ready Standards — I am not holding my breath in anticipation that much will change.

Read On Arizona spreads reading passion and skills

But I am applauding a private-non-profit effort called Read On Arizona, which is charging ahead with reading efforts all over the state. So far the partnership has helped 25 Arizona communities, including several in the Valley, become what it calls “Read On Communities.” The communities channel city, school, non-profit and business resources to programs that help young children read by the end of third grade.

Read On Arizona recently partnered with the Maricopa Association of Governments to create a data tool that allows users to see how young children in their neighborhood elementary schools, school districts and counties are doing in reading. The tool also shows factors like school attendance rates, health data and poverty information – all of these affect how well kids perform in school.

Consider helping an Arizona child learn to read

Check out your school, district or county and see how well kids in your area are reading.

Don’t like what you see? Then consider becoming a volunteer with one of the many Valley programs that connect adult readers with children who are struggling.

Programs like Volunteer Match can help. And if you want to get involved in an even bigger way, consider becoming a Read On Arizona supporter.




The equity gap – what are your biases?

The equity gap – what are your biases?

From the sound of its name, an outsider would never know Paradise Valley Unified School District has worked hard – and still struggles a bit – to overcome minority student achievement gap issues.

When Arizonans think of Paradise Valley, they think of that ritzy ‘burb that features pricey houses with gorgeous views and lots of acreage – not the 100-square-mile north Valley school district where 37 percent of the kids are so poor they qualify for free or reduced-cost school lunches.

But PVUSD is a great place to look at when one wants to understand the challenges teachers and administrators face when community demographics change. In the last decade, schools that once served white, middle-class kids have started serving students who speak little English and whose parents struggle daily to get meals on the table. Seemingly overnight, parent-teacher conferences were less about how Sally is doing on  spelling and more about helping Salma’s parents understand the basics of how their child’s school operates.

Creative ways to teach English learners

When I was an Arizona Republic reporter I enjoyed visiting PV schools and writing about the creative ways the district teaches subjects like math to students who have still not mastered English.

I recently attended the Arizona School Board Association’s 2016 Equity Event  and heard PV Superintendent Jim Lee talk about how teachers and administrators in his 45 schools work to make students of all ethnic and economic backgrounds feel included.

Lee also is president of the national Minority Student Achievement Network, a coalition of multiracial, suburban-urban school districts that share ways to identify and work to eliminate achievement gaps in their schools.

The first step, Lee said at the Arizona conference, is self-examination.

Everyone is biased 

What are your biases? Where do they come from?

“In our training we encourage people to reflect on how they were brought up and what their belief system is,” he said.

“Everyone has deep-seated biases. We don’t even realize our biases. That is the hard part.”

While it might be unrealistic to overcome all deep-seated biases, teachers and administrators who have taken time out to examine their own prejudices tend to be better, fairer educators.

A female football kicker overcomes preconceptions

A student who spoke on a panel that I moderated at the Equity Event is a great example of what can be achieved with the help of a her father, a coach, and other adults who did not let history or preconceptions get in the way of her success.

Tempe Marcos de Niza High School student Krysten Muir is a record-breaking kicker on the school’s varsity football team. A Tempe and Arizona first.

Want to know more about what her school, coaches and teammates say about her success? Click here for a video. 




Certification = 31 & 1/4 pizzas

12512618_10207398003421571_3100641105666253081_nWe’ve heard about teachers who go out of pocket for classroom supplies, supplemental books and things like tissues for kids who forget them.

But hundreds of dollars’ worth of exams and license fees? No one ever talks about that. When I began planning to become a teacher, I did not consider how big of a dent fees for credentials would make on my credit card bill.

I know many professionals are used to paying fees in order to work. Nurses, for instance, pay around $300 in Arizona for exams and licenses. But journalists have no such requirements. So I was surprised when required fees started adding up before I even enrolled in my teacher education program.

‘It is expensive’

Tammie Pursley, president of the Mesa Education Association and an AVID teacher at Poston Junior High in Mesa, said the fees come up a lot when teachers talk about their expenses.

“It is expensive,” told me. She said she advises new teachers to budget for the costs and not run down to the Arizona Department of Education every single time they have something new to add to their certificates.

I asked ADE spokesman Charles Tack how the fees are the calculated and where the all the money goes.

“The fees are based on the average amount of time it takes for each service as well as other administrative costs – paper, computers, copiers, office supplies,” he said.

Revenues pay staff salaries and the administrative costs, he said.

Tack also said the fees have not increased in more than a decade.

Almost $400 in testing and license fees

Here are my costs so far:

  • $67.00 for an Arizona Department of Public Safety fingerprint clearance card, required by ADE and Rio Salado College.
  • $95.00 for a National Evaluation Series Spanish language exam, also required by ADE and Rio.
  • $52.45 for a study guide and practice test for the Spanish exam. My goal was to pass the first time I took it.
  • $60.00 for a substitute teaching license. Not required but useful.
  • $60.00 for a provisional career and technical teaching license. Also not required but useful in case I decide to teach journalism in addition to Spanish.
  • $60.00 to show I passed a Structured Language Immersion course. This is an Arizona requirement.

Should I have bought pizza instead?

Believe it or not, there is a thing called the National Pizza Index that helped me figure out what else I could have done with the money spent on teaching credentials. It shows the average cost of a pizza in various locations across America. Arizona’s average pizza costs $12.61 – a little less than the national average of $13.21.

If my calculations are correct – and I did pass algebra and arithmetic exams before being admitted to Rio – I could have bought about 31 and 1/4ths pizzas for the amount I am spending on credentials.

So did I make the right choice? So far I am saying yes.

I will revisit this issue later on, when I blog about a first-year teacher’s salary.

Please follow my blog

I’ve launched The Classroom Scoop to share information I am learning about the latest in education science – as well as my personal journey from the newsroom to the classroom. Along the way, I will also share links to what I am reading about education news and policy – and more.

I hope you will join me by following The Classroom Scoop. I welcome your comments and suggestions. Please email me at .