Student Teaching $3K Stipend Is A Good Start, But More Needs To Be Done To Address Teacher Shortages

Commentary By: Victoria Kerins, Follow South Jersey Intern

Aspiring teachers hoping to earn their Certificate of Eligibility with Advanced Standing (CEAS) instructional licensure in New Jersey are required to successfully complete extensive provisional teaching requirements in order to obtain employment at N.J. public schools. Known as “student teaching,” the provisional teaching period required to obtain a CEAS licensure in New Jersey was previously defined as an unpaid internship – until recently. 

As the website explains, the CEAS is “issued to an individual who has completed a teacher preparation program and met requirements for certification, including academic study and applicable test requirements. The CEAS authorizes an individual to seek and accept employment in New Jersey public schools requiring certification.”

The culminating requirements of accredited N.J. teacher preparation programs at most four year colleges and universities not only include prescribed coursework taken directly from the institution that a teacher candidate is enrolled at, but also 50 pre-service hours to receive provisional teaching authorization, 175 hours of pre-student teaching clinical practice, and the successful completion of one full semester (15-16 weeks) of full-time student teaching, equaling approximately 500 hours. This does not account for time spent on grading, prepwork, after-school office hours, and communicating with students, parents, cooperating teachers, and field supervisors outside of regular classroom hours, equaling approximately 200 or more, for a combined total of 700 plus hours. 

Up until this past July, when a statement released by the State of New Jersey titled “College Promise, Tuition Aid Grants, and other Higher Education Accessibility and Affordability Initiatives Expanded for Upcoming Academic Year,” confirmed the New Jersey Higher Education Assistance Authority’s (HESAA) plan to implement a $3,000 stipend for undergraduate students participating in full-time clinical student teaching practicums, the position was identified as an unpaid, yet mandatory requisite in order to become eligible for teacher certification in New Jersey. 

“I’m curious as to how and who came up with the 3,000 figure,” states Lauren Tragale, a recent 2023 graduate with a BA in English Secondary Education, who recently concluded her final student teaching placement in fall of 2022. “What calculations went into determining that $3,000 is a sufficient compensation for the work (at least 700 hours of lesson planning, teaching/instructing, curating and creating multimodal materials, grading, adapting and designing units, meetings with cooperating teacher, supervisor, and advisor, etc. on top of a standard undergraduate course load) and financial obligations of student teachers (transportation/gas money to and from their placement, tangible supplies/software subscriptions for their placement classroom, mandated exams by the college and/or state, mandated paperwork by the district/college/state to participate and complete student teaching, etc.). I’d like to clarify that I am not claiming that $3,000 is insufficient compensation, I’m questioning in what ways and by whose say is the figure reflective of such financial variables.” 

According to the website: “To address the teacher shortage in New Jersey, in Fiscal Year 2024 HESAA will also implement a new $10 million program to encourage undergraduate students to pursue careers as educators, by offering $3,000 stipends during their student-teaching experience in a classroom.” 

“Clinical interns are eligible to receive a stipend under the program during the full-time semester of the clinical practice for a maximum of one (1) academic semester,” according to the HESAA website. “HESAA will award funding to clinical interns who remain enrolled in full-time clinical practice through a New Jersey CEAS EPP (Educator Preparation Program). Stipends are intended to pay living costs associated with students’ full-time semester of clinical practice. In the event you have an outstanding balance on your term bill account by the dates listed above, including if you have a payment plan, your stipend might be applied to this balance rather than issued to you as a direct refund.” 

While the addition of this new stipend is undoubtedly of great benefit and financial assistance to teacher candidates expected to enroll in clinical student teaching practicums during upcoming semesters, it begs the question of whether or not individuals who have already completed student teaching over the past few years have been placed at a great financial disadvantage – and whether or not some form of retro-pay or compensation should be provided for candidates who have recently completed their student teaching while it was still an unpaid position. 

“As a person who just completed their teacher-education program this past spring, I do not think that this stipend is unfair towards those who completed student teaching and will not receive a stipend,” explains Tragale. “From my understanding, the stipend draws on a state budget devised for the current academic/billing year. Accordingly, there was not a budget for this stipend for myself and my teacher candidate peers. I wish there was, but just because there wasn’t does not mean I received unfair treatment, I just received different circumstances.” 

“However, as a first-generation college student financially independent from their family who had living expenses separate from college and student teaching expenses, I do believe that I am at a greater disadvantage by not receiving a stipend during my two semesters of student teaching which occurred amid the height of nationwide inflation,” adds Tragale. “During student teaching, you are unable to work part-time jobs that assist in basic living expenses, that $3000 would have partially compensated the money I would have made if I had the hours to work as some normally do on top of their college workload. I could have used that $3000 for living expenses (that I had to take extra loans out for), or I could have used that $3000 as compensation for my work as a part-time and full-time student teacher.” 

“I believe that even for student-teachers who are not of my lower socioeconomic class, they are also at a financial disadvantage for not receiving the stipend; they conducted two semesters of unpaid labor, such exploitation affects your mentality during and about the job and thus affects your learning experience from the program—I am aware of peers who have dropped their student-teaching program due to such anxieties,” Tragale explains. “That is why I am so pleased to hear that this year’s student teachers (and hopefully student teachers in the future and nationwide) will receive some form of financial compensation/assistance in their student-teaching program.” 

However, Tragale is careful to note that “as retro-payments/compensations can lead to a slippery slope, I think that it will be difficult for the state/colleges to determine when the cut-off date will be for those to receive their overdue-compensation, and what figure such compensation will be priced at as the dollar’s value has changed frequently even over the past two decades. But, just because such determinations will be difficult, it does not mean there should not be active discussion and actions towards this needed solution.” 

As the website continues, “At HESAA’s board meeting on July 26, the board unanimously approved financial aid program parameters for academic year 2023-24 – expanding the New Jersey College Promise and Tuition Aid Grant (TAG) programs to support more students than ever before and implementing several new initiatives to address workforce shortages.” 

The teacher shortage in New Jersey – and the Nation as a whole – isn’t an unknown issue. In fact, it has been an ongoing matter since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, and isn’t expected to be fully resolved anytime soon. 

While providing a stipend in order to attract more students to the field, or to retain students already enrolled in teacher preparation programs, might aid the state’s efforts to remedy that issue, that doesn’t mean it’s a definite solution, and certainly doesn’t guarantee it will come without greater upset, resistance, or complications. Moreover, it doesn’t account for the fact that monetary compensation isn’t the only factor contributing to the nationwide teacher shortage — in fact, there are many other variables that lie at the root of the problem, such as a work-life balance and concerns for personal safety and wellbeing. 

“I don’t think the stipend will exponentially increase the number of people in college pre-service teacher programs as the career’s insufficient income rate amid unbalanced work-life expectations by both school and student guardians and the increase in school shootings and in teacher/curriculum-targeted political movements is, in my opinion, the current cause in teacher shortage,” notes Tragale. “From conversations I’ve had with current teachers and pre-service teachers, teachers are tired of their socioemotional and financial needs (not wants) being historically neglected by district, state, and nation even with aid from local and/or state unions.” 

“This guarantee of perpetual fatigue is what’s discouraging people to consider teaching as a long term career—a valid concern often dismissed by problematic rhetoric like do it for the kids; it’s not about the money,” Tragale adds. “These sociocultural expectations amid socioeconomic neglect of the career have bled into our teacher pre-service programs, most notably in most (if not all) of such programs offering zero financial compensation for the student teachers’ tangible and intangible work.” 

“Accordingly, though I recognize the progress in this stipend for the student teachers,” Tragale explains, “I do not think that it will impact the current perspective on the career and thus its shortage in new applicants. I also fear that this stipend will not be sustained and maintained by our federal government as, in my opinion, federal budgeting historically does not favor the education department beyond funding standardized tests. I think this stipend is a product of a new wave of students and student teachers backed by fatigued teachers that want to change the societal culture and thus the funding towards teachers and careers in education.” 

Although a $3,000 New Jersey student teacher stipend might not provide an end-all-be-all solution to the state and nationwide teacher shortages that are currently affecting our educational institutions, and doesn’t address all of the issues underlying teachers’ decisions to transfer out of the field, which include concerns such as personal wellbeing, reasonable work-life balances, safe classroom environments, adequate support from administration, and effective communication with parents and students, it does provide some form of benefit to student teachers in terms of funding for classroom supplies, transportation costs, and basic living necessities that those before them did not receive.

Tragale explains that a primary benefit of the new stipend could be its positive influence on the perspectives, mentalities, and finances of teacher candidates.

“Student-teachers’ negative mentality on their work as student teachers and their work as future teachers as under/never adequately compensated will lessen; student-teachers’ negative mentality on their work as student teachers and their work as future teachers as socioculturally undervalued will lessen; student-teachers will not have to pay out of their own pockets to fund (some of their) projects, materials, parties, etc. for their placement classrooms and classes; student-teachers will not have to pay out of their own pockets to fund (some of) their transportations costs for their student-teaching placements; and, student-teachers will not have to pay out of their own pockets to fund costs regarding (some of) their obligatory tests and paperwork to participate and complete their teacher pre-service program and obtain their educator license,” she stated. 

However, there still exists the concern that the new stipend may be misconstrued as a definite solution to the inequities that educators are currently facing, which needs to be addressed in its own right in order for substantial progress to be made. 

Tragale also expressed her worry that the new stipend might overshadow the already pervasive and persistent issues, such as a considerable lack of communication; inequity; an insufficient work-life balance; and burnout, that are presently overwhelming the state and nation’s education systems. Moreover, these issues, which are not purely financial, are responsible for driving teachers, whether they be aspiring, novice, or seasoned instructors, away from the field of education and into more personally-fulfilling roles, sustainable careers, and remunerative occupations. 

“This progress will be viewed as an end to the inequities of student teachers in American teacher pre-service programs, which it is not,” Tragale further explained.

As such, while the new $3,000 N.J. student teacher stipend is a step in the right direction for teacher preparation programs in providing sufficient monetary compensation to students participating in full-time student teaching, it may not be entirely effective in addressing the teacher shortages currently affecting our state and nation, as it does not account for the multitude of other equally (or more) pressing issues that are causing teachers to exit the field in mass numbers. It may help aspiring teachers to cover basic costs, such as classroom necessities, transportation fees, and living expenses; however, more serious concerns related to personal wellbeing; classroom safety; effective communication between teachers, parents, and students; mental health; and a reasonable work-life balance, among many others, still need to be addressed before any significant amount of change or progress can be made.

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