This article, To teach or not to teach: finding a teaching internship, was previously published in the Washington Post in April 2002. It has been revised, below.
You are considering a career in teaching, but you’ve decided to look before you leap. A good way to learn more about teaching is do an internship at an independent school, formerly called a private school.
There are many reasons to consider a teaching internship an independent school. First, independent schools allow you to have direct contact with a small group of students. Not only can you create a teaching internship that is within your major, you can create one that is off-the-beaten track. For example, these independent schools often have programs in athletics and the arts. In many independent schools, all faculty members participate in these activities. You may be able to create an independent school internship in coaching, teaching music, or supervising the school newspaper. The possibilities are endless.
Landing a teaching internship in an independent school has three advantages. First, it allows you to test-drive teaching as a possible career track. Second, it allows you to establish relationships with people who can hire you or recommend you to others. Third, it provides you with experience that will enhance your credibility during any job search.
So, how do you seek out an internship in an independent school? Some universities already have well-established links with independent schools. So, before charting your own course, check with your school’s career services center, internship office, volunteer services department — the department for your major (e.g. math or english) or any departments that might host such programs. Many departments award academic credit for internships; find out if this is the case in your major.
If your college or university doesn’t have such a program, encourage them to start one. Offer to be a trailblazer. Go to your department chairperson or faculty adviser and talk to her about your intentions. Check to see if any faculty members have a relationship with an independent school. If they do, use their support and guidance. If no one has an inside track for you, contact the independent school on your own.
If you would like to teach or tutor within your subject area, contact the department chairperson within the independent school. If you know that you would like to participate in plays or musicals contact the person who directs those activities. If you are uncertain, contact the Dean of Students. He or she my be able to outline some possibilities for you.
In creating your internship at an independent school, be as explicit as you can about what you hope to learn. Arrange to have a mentor both on your own faculty and on the internship site. Set up a meeting about once a month in which you, your university faculty adviser and your school mentor meet to evaluate your progress and to fine tune the independent school internship.
During your time there, try to learn as much as you can and be as helpful as possible. If you decide that you would like to teach there, let the people in charge know of your interest. Most independent school faculty love to teach and would greatly enjoy being able to pass on their craft to a newcomer!
I hope this article, To teach or not to teach: finding a teaching internship, has been helpful. If you try this out, I’d love to know (a) how it worked for you and whether you have any other helpful suggestions that you’d like to offer.
In addition to seeing people in psychotherapy and psychoanalysis, I serve as a consultant to independent school leaders. Anyone interested in consulting me is welcome to call: 301.656.9650.