Teaching internships gaining in popularity at Fairfield University

Teaching internships are on the rise in Connecticut as graduate students discover the benefits of working in education while earning a master's degree. At Fairfield University, Dr. Joseph Ricciotti, director of the student internship program, says internships "can serve as a stepping stone in this era of very competitive job situations for teachers."

That was the case with John Bayers, a Boston College grad who had majored in elementary education and was certified to teach in both Massachusetts and Connecticut. Last summer he interviewed for three teaching positions, losing out each time to someone with more experience. "It was frustrating," he says. "How was I going to get the experience if I couldn't get a job?"

After learning about the internship program, he signed on with Dwight Elementary School in Fairfield where he applied the skills he was learning to teach computers to children. Because he was certified and therefore qualified to teach a class for an extended period of time, John was a particularly desirable candidate. When a teacher at Stratfield School went on pregnancy leave, John filled in with her class. And best of all, when a position opened up to teach fourth grade next year, he was hired for the job.

"It's a win-win situation," explained Dr. Ricciotti. "The School board contributes $8,000 to subsidize the students' graduate work. In return the school administrators have an entire year to assess the qualities and attributes of a potential candidate for a full-time teaching position. The student gains tremendous experience while earning tuition credit and the school system has the services of someone who can substitute teach or help with other school projects."

Carolyn Williams did her internship at Read Elementary School in Bridgeport. Not certified to teach yet, she says, "It was an invaluable experience. I came from a career with Morgan Stanley on Wall Street and was trying to go into teaching. It gives you the experience and confidence you need. It would be very difficult to just take courses and then go student teach."

At Read she worked with 20 students, four at a time, who were divided by ability. "We tested them at the beginning of the year and then at the end and the increase in test scores was phenomenal. They had developed much better skills for how to attack words."

Some children who weren't sure how to hold books when the year started were reading them by year's end. When Caroline asked them to write a story, "One child wrote his own story, about who he was and what he did at home. When I asked him to read it, he was so excited that he could write a story and then read it back. It was great."

Another thing Carolyn liked about doing the internship was the exposure it gave her to different grade levels. She knows when she student teaches at Kendall School in Norwalk this September she will be restricted to one class. "It's a wonderful experience to get to observe the teachers and try out your own lessons. Everyone should do an internship if possible."

Barbara Taccogna had earned a master's and been certified when she tried to return to teaching after working in a nursery school for four years while her children were young. "The reaction was, 'We're not looking for a nursery school teacher.'" She decided to use the internship program to brush up on her skills while working on her sixth year certificate. Placed in Fairfield's Riverfield School, Barbara says, "I gained experience in all subject areas, working at all grade levels, K-5, as well as in special education, art music and gym. The only jobs they didn't permit me to do," she jokes, "were those of principal and custodian."

Dr. Ricciotti said that the introduction a year ago of a graduate program to train teachers to teach elementary education is one reason Fairfield's internship program is growing, since 75 percent of requests for interns is at the elementary school level. He said Fairfield presently has agreements with Fairfield, Stamford, Bridgeport, Norwalk, Southbury and Trumbull and expects to expand into other towns.

Fairfield has conducted classes for a master's degree and certification in secondary school education, grades seven through 12, for over 45 years.

The State Board of Education recently accredited the Graduate School of Education and Allied Professions for another five years, finding the University extremely supportive of the teacher preparation program; that the program is valued by the participants and by the schools that receive these students as apprentices; and the technology services are truly remarkable.

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Media Contact: Nancy Habetz, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2647, nhabetz@fairfield.edu

Posted on August 1, 1997

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