Maryland Gov. Wes Moore on Tuesday signed into law a measure that would provide $20,000 stipends to student teachers and take other steps to stem Maryland’s educator shortage and diversify its teacher pipeline. And advocates say the measure could be a model to other states struggling with the same challenges.
“Having the governor take the lead this year helped to set the tone and make a difference,” Cheryl Bost, the president of the Maryland State Education Association (MSEA)—Maryland’s 74,000-member educators union and an ardent supporter of the bill, said in an email. She predicted the changes set down in the measure “will help to grow and diversify our profession and address the staff shortages that we grapple with every day.”
The Maryland Educator Shortage Reduction Act of 2023 promises a $20,000 stipend to be offered during the requisite teaching internship to students who attend institutions where at least 40 percent of students receive federal Pell grants and, upon graduating, commit to teach for at least two years in a grade, content area, or school in the state designated as high-needs. The stipend is designed to address the financial burden of teacher-training programs faced by countless students, particularly during unpaid teaching internships.
Other highlights of the act include removing barriers to an existing Maryland teaching fellowship program by loosening entry requirements; providng small stipends to qualified students who participate in classroom-based experiential learning such as tutoring; and redesigning a loan assistance program to ease eligibility criteria.
But the student-teacher stipend has attracted the most attention. “There are other states that have a host of initiatives, but Maryland’s $20,000 stipend for student-teachers is the most generous,” said Lynn M. Gangone, president and CEO of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education. At least one other state has enacted a similar stipend, but with with more stringent criteria for recipients. Colorado last May signed into law a bill that provides students completing a 16-week student-teacher program $11,000; those completing a 32-week program qualify for $22,000. To receive either stipend, a student must qualify for financial assistance.
The burden of unpaid student-teaching
Aislinn Canavan could’ve benefited from a stipend during her student-teaching internship. The 23-year-old senior early-childhood education major at Towson University in Baltimore acknowledged that she was fully aware that a 16-week, full-time, unpaid internship would be required of her, and she began saving well in advance to make up for outside income she would have to forego during that period.
Despite her best efforts, Canavan—who lives at her parents’ house rent-free to cut down on costs—said she finds herself tight on cash to pay for groceries, her phone bill, gas to commute to her internship and her part-time job at a day care, and other extraneous expenses. After spending eight hours each weekday at her internship with a class of kindergartners, Canavan heads to her paid day-care job.
“If I knew how arduous it was going to be, how much mental effort and how taxing it would be, I might have stayed with [a major in] psychology,” said Canavan, noting the financial challenges and also the struggle to manage a classroom of young students, including one who is physically aggressive.
Canavan has persevered and recently, she received a job offer from the county school system where she student-teaches. She plans to accept the offer and start her first teaching job this August.
A former classmate took a different path.
Meaghan Doyle, who was an early-childhood education major, supported herself as she embarked on a path to become a teacher. She made it to the point where she would have to student-teach, which would have required a hiatus from her full-time job at a retail store. Unwilling to go further into debt, Doyle graduated without her teaching certificate.
But while she was still a student, she volunteered at the Maryland State Education Association (MSEA) and started an aspiring educator club on campus, where her efforts focused on advocating for the $20,000 stipend in the teacher-shortage act. Doyle created a document for MSEA parsing out her own estimated costs of student teaching.
Do student-teaching costs push students out of teaching programs?
These costs could help explain why growing numbers of students fail to complete teacher preparation programs across the country. Between 2010 to 2018, the number of “completers”—students who enrolled in and completed traditional teacher preparation programs—declined by 27 percent nationwide, according to data from the U.S. Department of Education.
Some states had greater declines than than others. Four states saw a 50 percent or greater drop in students who completed teacher preparation programs from 2010 to 2018: Michigan, 54 percent; Oklahoma, 54 percent; Maine, 53 percent; and Illinois, 53 percent. More than 5,000 students in each of the following states failed to complete their teaching training: New York, Pennsylvania, California, and Illinois.
Perceptions about the profession also affect the pipeline
A stipend during the teaching internship can address students’ financial concerns, but it may not be the only reason students fall short of meeting teaching program requirements. Well before college students encounter a teaching internship assignment, societal messages about the profession can impact their decision of whether to pursue a teaching career.
For a recent study, researchers at the University of Maryland surveyed more than 100 undergraduate students and found that, while a slight majority (53 percent) said they received encouraging messages from people they respect about teaching, 29 percent reported being discouraged from entering the profession by people they respect, such as family members. And 63 percent of respondents said they received discouraging messages about teaching from the media.
Some of these messages stick.
“Because of the way education is right now, I’m not sure if this is a forever career for me,” said Canavan. “It’s not a very teacher-friendly environment. So many things are expected of us, and the pay does not compensate.”
The same issues that affect recruitment into the profession also impact retention, observed MSEA’s Bost.
“Equally important to addressing recruitment into the profession, we must do everything we can to retain the dedicated educators currently serving in our schools,” she wrote in an email. “We must raise salaries for all school employees, reduce class sizes, provide needed support personnel and programs, and show respect to our valued educators.”