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Teacher Preparation

Indiana Wants Teachers to Do Externships. So Some Are Headed to the Brewery

By Madeline Will — May 20, 2019 4 min read
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Starting this summer, most Indiana teachers will have to spend 15 hours on professional development related to their community’s career and workforce needs in order to renew their professional license.

The new rule, passed by the state legislature this month, has sparked outrage among teachers who say the change adds an unncessary burden, with the state teachers’ union president calling it a “slap in the face.”

In response, some teachers have decided to fulfill their requirements by drinking beer. At least two breweries have put together programs for teachers to learn about beer production, the ins and outs of operating a small business, and of course, beer-tasting.

Jon Knight, the managing partner of Grand Junction Brewing Co. in Westfield, Ind., said he’s married to a veteran high school teacher, who gave him the idea.

“She came to me and said, ‘Honey, we need to do something. We need to use the brewery as a conduit to try to help,’” he said. “Many in the education field feel as though ... they’re underappreciated and expected to jump through unnecessary hoops, so it makes the job harder. ... We felt like there had to be something we could do [to help teachers] meet the requirements.”

‘Change of Pace’

The most common license renewal path for teachers in Indiana requires 90 hours of professional development every five years. The new rule says that 15 of those hours should now be fulfilled through an externship with a company or through state- or business-provided professional development that outlines current and future economic needs and how those needs can be taught to students. The PD can also provide a partnership between the school and employers to promote career navigation.

At Grand Junction, teachers will go through “beer school,” where they learn about running a brewery and get a basic beer education on different flavors, complete with tastings. Then, they can choose to shadow either the general manager, to get a sense of the day-to-day work of managing a business, or the brewer, to learn how to brew beer. Both components of the program together will satisfy the 15-hour requirement, Knight said.

“This certainly does provide a nice change of pace for them, and it also gets exposure [to a brewery], and is something a little more enjoyable than your typical classroom setting,” he said, adding that so far, around 30 teachers have signed up for the first class.

State lawmakers have been increasingly interested in promoting externships—short stints in local businesses—for teachers. The idea is that teachers will get a firsthand look at industries in their region, and will be able to then teach their students the skills that are needed for the workforce.

See also: Teacher Externships Bring Real-World Experience Into Classrooms

But teachers have said the new rule piles on to their already-full plates, especially since an externship would be unpaid and requires more effort than some of the online coursework and conferences that teachers can currently take to complete their 90 hours of professional development. Indiana State Teachers Association President Teresa Meredith told the Evansville Courier & Press that the new rule doesn’t give teachers credit for already teaching their students about careers and workforce needs.

“Adding this to our professional growth plan insinuates that we don’t know about the economics in our community or about the workforce,” she said. “I can’t teach kids today in kindergarten about a job that may not exist when they graduate. This is just really insulting.”

State lawmakers have said there needs to be a better connection between what students are learning in school, and what skills employers want them to have. Teacher externships are an increasingly popular solution: Michigan, Louisiana, and Tennessee are among the states that have experimented with offering externships as professional development. For example, in Tennessee, teachers can choose to participate in weeklong summer externships in industries such as aerospace, energy, manufacturing, and health care.

Learning about the brewing industry was probably not what Indiana legislators had in mind, but Knight said he’s heard from several other local breweries who are interested in creating a similar program for teachers. While the externship at Grand Junction does meet the state’s requirements, he said some brewery owners have suggested giving teachers a completion certificate for just sampling a flight of beers.

Kurtis Cummings, the owner of Switchyard Brewing Company in Bloomington, Ind., created an externship for teachers where they can go through a tasting panel and get a tour of the brewery, as well as learn about starting a small business and securing startup funding, according to the Indianapolis Star. He also told the site Indiana on Tap that the program was meant to be an easy way for teachers to meet the requirement.

“Teachers have lives and don’t need this useless requirement to do their jobs,” he said. “This is an opportunity for educators to meet some arbitrarily made-up requirement to meet the new state law.”

The rule goes into effect on July 1, and the state teachers’ union has released a statement urging teachers to finish the license renewal process before then. According to the Indianapolis Star, thousands of teachers are doing just that. The union also said it would “seek a legislative solution to this problem.”

Teachers in Indiana have three other options to renew their licenses, such as completing the National Board certification process, but the 90-hour plan is the most common.

Professional development is often hit or miss for teachers, as Education Week has reported in a new series of stories. Many trainers are trying to make PD both fun and meaningful—for instance, as my colleague Alyson Klein reported, one Kansas district offers PD that’s inspired by Disney.

Image via Getty

A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.