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3rd July 2017

Internship is an investment

School managers should not treat interns as "pair of extra hands" but rather they should tap into their latest and innovative multiple skills and talents. Photo: Supplied.

Running a successful teacher internship programme is a boon to a school

Xolani Majola

There is a much misconception around the subject of internships. Staff members have different perspectives on internship programmes and their usefulness to the life of a school. It is important to clear up some of these misconceptions about internships by providing clear interpretations of such programmes.

Interns are not beneath the teachers or the children in a school. They are not assistant teachers and do not belong to any other subsidiary category. There have frequently been situations where interns have been put under severe and unnecessary pressure by schools that couldn’t recognise their value and input.

Theory and practice

Interns have generally been seen as an extra pair of hands rather than as an addition to the intellectual scope of the school and classroom they’re in. Interns bring a lot of fresh new ideas and thinking that schools can benefit from, especially those schools with an eye for innovation and the latest thinking in education. Schools need to realise that interns bring with them a certain amount of knowledge and information, particularly at theoretical level. All they need is exposure to practice to balance their theoretical information.

In the past, interns were viewed as novices who needed to learn as much as they could from the “expert” teachers. While at a foundational level this may be true, there are gaps in this thinking that need to be corrected. In the pre-internet era, teachers were regarded as the sole bearers of knowledge. This assumed superiority remained unchallenged for a very long time; teachers sat at the top of the knowledge pyramid.

Degrading attitudes

It was evident which position interns were expected to assume. They were presumed to be novices lacking knowledge of the craft, and their opinions were generally disregarded. Interns were given menial tasks: marking exercise books, taking class registers and enforcing classroom discipline. They seldom had the opportunity to try out new ideas when they taught, and were commanded to do only that which was approved by the teacher.

Advent of the internet

Such historical tendencies have endured, but they are slowly been eroded by the advent of the internet. Information and knowledge can now be accessed anywhere, anyhow and anytime, whenever it is needed. Teachers, together with learners, interns and parents can use this fact productively to enhance the learning process. Innovative schools realise that there are more advantages than disadvantages to having interns in the school. While they can be used as an extra pair of hands, they also present a unique opportunity to both teachers and learners as additional reference points. They become a knowledge bridge between learners and their teachers. Knowledge production becomes a triumvirate process. They can become research assistants and sounding boards for both learners and teachers.

Intern-friendly environment

An intern may possess skills and talents that can benefit a school. An intern-friendly programme designed to help a novice teacher grow exponentially can have huge benefits for a school. There is an opportunity to groom and grow a young teacher for possible employment. The advantage here is that the school will hire someone who is well-versed with the culture of the school, rather than getting someone who still needs to be coached in the institution’s philosophy.

Investing good time and money

Schools with internship programmes need to invest good money and time in them. To run successful internship programmes schools need to observe the following:

  • Prepare teachers for the roles of mentorship. Choose the best teachers with the passion to coach and mentor novice teachers to reach their full potential. These mentors will form an important part of the internship process, because it is through their input that students will succeed or not. They are the critical link between students, school and university work.
  • Provide interns with a safe and professional working environment that will make them feel at home and part of the school. A positive school ethos contributes towards intern motivation and wellbeing.
  • Offer interns fair and competitive stipends (living expenses fee) to help them cover minor expenses such as transport (if they travel), food (if they are not boarding), clothing, etc. While this is not a salary, legislation does make provisions for interns to be paid for the formal duties they undertake in your school’s employ.
  • Do not over-burden interns with school duties in such a way that they don’t have ample time for their university studies. A work overload will create unnecessary pressure and tension, leading to fatigue and possible exit from the programme.

It is imperative to ensure that interns are fully integrated into the school life by entrusting them with important duties and responsibilities; their self-confidence and sense of worth increases when they are positively challenged to contribute towards the good running of the school. A supportive school culture will allow interns to learn as much as they can about the profession and teaching craft.

The best thing that schools can do is to look at internship as a form of investment and a contribution towards the growth of the teaching profession.

Majola works for Global Teachers Institute


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