Professional Development

Learning on the Job

By Michelle R. Davis — April 24, 2007 1 min read
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Biology and horticulture teacher Steve Shifflett spent the last three summers in laboratories studying the Ebola virus, zebra fish embryos, and a parasite that infected Chesapeake Bay oysters.

Shifflett, who teaches at Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda, Maryland, gets paid for these learning experiences and, come fall, brings enhanced abilities back to the classroom. “The kids can tell the difference between something you know from a book and something you’ve experienced,” he says.

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School’s Out—or Not

There are many teacher-internship programs out there—especially in science and technology—but most accept only a handful of educators each summer. Teachers interested in such opportunities should start searching in the fall, since applications are often due early in the calendar year. The application process can be labor intensive; be prepared to gather recommendations and write essays. Your own district is a good place to start; ask if there are any existing programs with local businesses or research organizations.

“Part of [the purpose of educator internships] is stretching teachers to think in more ambitious ways about what their students are capable of,” says Mark Slavkin, vice president for education at the Music Center: Performing Arts Center of Los Angeles County. The center offers a summer program for educators from Los Angeles County elementary schools. This year, groups will study the ballet The Sleeping Beauty and Maya Angelou’s poem “On the Pulse of Morning.”

“Summer programs should be to re-experience why you love your subject, ” says Carol Jago, of the California Reading & Literature Project at the University of California at Los Angeles. Her organization offers three-week institutes with stipends in which teachers delve into literature and explore classroom applications.

Shifflett couldn’t agree more; when sweltering weather arrives this year, he’ll be at the University of Maryland, scrutinizing the egg production of crabs.

A version of this article appeared in the May 01, 2007 edition of Teacher Magazine

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