Caught in Limbo, Aspiring Educators Ask for Flexibility

Monica Isza never got to say good-bye to her students, not really, not the way she had hoped. She settled for a FaceTime call, in which they asked a lot of questions that she couldn’t answer, like are we going to see you again?

Isza, a Michigan State University (MSU) graduate and NEA Aspiring Educators member who was spending the academic year as a student teacher at a Chicago elementary school, left her fifth graders early when MSU canceled all student-teacher placements.

Across the country, thousands of student-teachers like Isza abruptly said good-bye when the COVID-19 pandemic closed schools and sent college students home. For students who are graduating next month and checking the last boxes on their licensure requirements, this cancelation has left them in limbo as states rush to implement extensions and waivers for student teachers. On top of other concerns related to the pandemic—like where to live when the dorms are closed—aspiring educators also are wondering how they’re going to get licensed to teach when they can’t complete the in-person, student-teaching requirements.

“I think about it every day,” says Homar Rodriguez, a senior at Delaware State University whose student-teaching placement was canceled when Delaware’s public schools were closed. “Hopefully they can work with us!”

Fortunately, Rodriguez isn’t alone. As a member of NEA Aspiring Educators, a campus-based association of more than 50,000 future teachers, he’s one of many future teachers advocating for a solution, alongside their union family. “You are not facing these issues alone,” NEA Aspiring Educators Chair Rachel Immerman recently wrote to Aspiring Educators members.

Speaking with a United Voice

Most states use one of two national assessments to determine whether students are proficient enough to get teaching licenses. It’s either PPAT, which is administered by ETS and used in seven states, including Delaware, or edTPA, administered by Pearson, and used in 17 states. Both require students to submit videos of themselves teaching students, among other tasks. But, with schools abruptly closed, many student teachers have no way of completing this work before the end of the semester, even with PPAT or edTPA’s now-extended submission deadlines.

With those issues in mind, NEA Aspiring Educators, through their state affiliates, are calling for flexibility in state licensure requirements. While it may be difficult for an individual student to get this done, “there is power in one united voice,” says Immerman.

In cases where states won’t waive requirements around PPTA or EdTPA, NEA Aspiring Educators are advocating for provisional licenses, which would be based on the recommendations of their college or university programs, so that they can be hired and then complete the testing during their first year of work. (This latter approach mirrors the same approach used in many states for people who switch careers to teaching, forgoing the traditional undergraduate route to teaching.)

A State-by State Approach

With states across the nation facing teaching shortages, and NEA affiliates urging action for its Aspiring Educator members, state departments of education are listening.

Last week, Mississippi’s State Board of Education suspended its licensing requirement that all educator-licensure candidates must spend a minimum of 12 weeks as student teachers, saying it would work with colleges of education to determine acceptable experiences.

NEA Aspiring Educators, through their state affiliates, are calling for flexibility in state licensure requirements. While it may be difficult for an individual student to get this done, “there is power in one united voice,” says Immerman.

Meanwhile,  Washington’s Professional Educator Standards Board also has filed an emergency rule, saying educator preparation programs can waive or reduce a candidate’s student-teaching or clinical practice, if those programs review the candidate’s experience and determine they have the required skills.

In Kansas, the state Department of Education has urged student-teachers to remain involved in their student-teaching placements, as possible. “This is an incredible learning and teaching moment for our newest members of the profession,” writes the state’s Continuous Learning Task Force, which includes Kansas-NEA members.

When that’s not possible for student-teachers, Kansas institutions can adjust the 12-week requirement, and the state will accept that determination. Educator testing should not be a problem, the Kansas task force says, as the state will provide one-year, non-renewable licenses to new teachers who can take and pass the assessment next year.

Worried Educators

Rodriguez hopes that the requirement will be waived altogether. Just a few weeks ago, he was a few days into a student-teacher placement at a Delaware high school when schools closed. As a future physical education (P.E.) and health teacher, who will be licensed to teach K-12, Rodriguez is supposed to complete two placements this year, one in an elementary school (done!) and the other in a middle or high school (not done…)

“The university has said it’ll accept our current hours, so we’re good on that,” says Rodriguez, meaning he will graduate on time. But he hasn’t been able to put together the video required by PPAT. With just one week on the job, he was still working on learning students’ names and figuring out what kinds of pedagogical approaches would be most successful.

“I didn’t get that much of a chance to teach!”

Isza is more fortunate—Michigan doesn’t use edTPA or PPAT, and her year-long, post-graduate internship was more than halfway finished when Chicago closed schools. “I’ve never been so thankful for the yearlong experience! We have met all the requirements—MSU is just trying to figure out a way to wrap it up. I’m very thankful, because I know so many other aspiring educators haven’t been able to say the same.”