Chicago District Offers Unpaid Internships to Jobseekers

St Charles-based Community Unit School District 303 in Chicago is seeking to benefit all parties by offering unpaid internships to recent graduates unable to find a teaching job.

Donald Schlomann, the district superintendent, explains the unique scenario:

"It's not unusual for us if we have an open position … we would get 400 applicants," he said. "And, so we recognize there are a lot of teachers out there with degrees who are not getting any experience."

From this observation, district officials decided to develop an internship program that would give certified teachers some experience while job hunting, Schlomann said.

Kate Thayer from the Chicago Tribune reports that the Educator Intern Partnership allows recent graduates to gain workplace experience in the classroom by co-teaching alongside District 303 staffers, substitute teaching and networking with those who already work in the district. Each of the district's 17 schools will have one intern position. Interns will work unpaid for at least one semester and can leave if they find a full-time job.

Schlomann said newly certified teachers without jobs often work on obtaining their master's degree. In some cases, he said, that's detrimental because "they price themselves out of the market."

"They have no experience, but they need to be paid for (having a master's degree)," he said.

The unpaid nature of the internship means that it's not suitable for everyone, as Pam Turiff, president of the district's teachers' union, is quick to point out. Turiff was a driving force behind the original concept and believes that the partnership will be a great aid in making recent graduates become more marketable while giving them an opportunity to further hone their craft. Turiff said that the teaching job market had become especially competitive recently because of declining enrollment and budget cuts resulting in fewer teachers' position being needed. With the recession causing some older teachers to hold off retirement plans the number of new hires was being squeezed from both ends.

Kate Dillon, 22, of St. Charles, graduated last May from Illinois State University, hoping to teach elementary school near her hometown.

But the first day of school is fast approaching, and the District 303 graduate — also a part-time tutor — is still looking.

"I've never even gotten an interview," she said. "I know if I don't get anything, I'll probably have to get a second part-time job."

While it is widely held that America is in desperate need of highly skilled teachers to rescue an education system that is falling behind in terms of global competitiveness, education graduates are entering a job market with increasingly bleak employment prospects.

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