Teacher externships are work-based learning and professional development opportunities that provide teachers extended exposure to the contemporary work environment and the types of careers their students may pursue. The teacher externship is designed to expose teachers to careers and work environments so they can work with high school students more effectively. It is an opportunity for teachers to observe first-hand what the 21st century workplace entails and to interact with business professionals. It allows teachers to provide links between the skills and knowledge taught in the classroom and those being used in the workplace so that we can better prepare young people for the workplace ready for the challenges there.
Externships afford teachers the opportunity to build personal relationships with employers and the employees who are their colleagues during the externship and thus become ambassadors for WBL programs. After hosting teacher externships, employers may become more willing to engage in other WBL activities.
While student internships are career preparation activities for students who have yet to enter the workforce, teacher externships are opportunities for experienced professionals to enhance their knowledge and skills in ways that will benefit their students over the long term. Teachers can also benefit the employers who host their externships by bringing fresh perspectives to challenges in the workplace.
Which Teachers Participate in Teacher Externships?
All teachers can benefit from teacher externships, especially those who work with seventh- through twelfth-grade students who participate in WBL activities. Participation in teacher externships should be voluntary and ideally would be done in teams consisting of a General Education and a CTE teacher. Depending on the design of the externship program, teachers may earn academic or continuing education credit. Most are paid at least a nominal stipend.
How are Teacher Externships Structured?
Teacher externships usually take place during the summer, typically for 30 to 40 hours per week for a period of 1 to 2 weeks. As with other WBL activities, the length and structure of teacher externships should reflect local needs and opportunities (e.g., availability of positions, teacher interest, or funding for stipends). It is suggested that all teachers participating in an externship program, attend a 1/2 day orientation prior to the externship. This orientation would cover expectations of their participation at the industry site as well as performance tasks required for their classrooms as a result of this externship opportunity. Teacher externs typically meet periodically to reflect, share observations, or discuss ideas for how to use their externship experiences to enrich their teaching. Other reflection activities might include blogging, journaling, or writing articles for publication.
The work-plan for each teacher externship should be agreed upon by both the employer and the teacher team, with the WBL coordinator or school administrator playing a facilitating role. Often, teachers work on a project that provides real value to the employer and can be completed in the designated timeframe. Examples of teacher externship projects include: research on operating efficiencies between departments; process redesign; or market research. Alternatively, teachers might rotate through several departments within an organization, perhaps filling in for vacationing employees, in order to learn about several careers in which their students may be interested. Externships should not be used to fill positions that otherwise would be available to part- or full-time employees.
Teachers are often expected to develop lesson plans during their externship that use real-world work situations to teach academic content. The lesson plans are typically presented to the employer host and Pathway Coach and then integrated into a project-based learning experience for students.
Teacher externships are usually compensated in the form of a stipend. Funding for stipends may be provided by grant funding, employers, chambers of commerce, or economic development agencies. Decisions about stipends and academic credit need to be made early in the planning process to ensure that adequate information is in place for outreach to employers and teachers. Because teacher externships usually take place in the summer, a Pathway Coach, Work-Based Learning Coordinator or site Administrator will need to be available “on call” to help resolve any problems that may arise.