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Student teachers grapple with lack of aid

By Amanda Hancock
On February 7, 2013

For senior Anne Chesnut, fulfilling her education major requirements is riding on one semester; one semester of her Miami University career where she can't be late to class or shuffle into the back wearing sweatpants.

It's an important semester, but Chesnut is afraid she won't be able to afford it. Chesnut is so worried about having enough money that she's trying to start a fund for Miami's student teaching program.

She will be student teaching in Cincinnati in the fall as part of Miami's Urban Teaching Cohort. While she is excited, she has discovered downsides to how the process works.

"The process leaves a lot in the air for us," she said.

The State of Ohio requires students pursuing an education degree to student teach for a semester and Miami students are typically assigned to a school for their senior year. Because of this, students prepare for student teaching beginning their first year.

But when it comes time for that particular semester, a sense of uneasiness enters in.

"Usually when you're placed, there's a scramble to figure out housing and if you're going to have a job," Chesnut said.

The main concern for Chesnut and others is that they have to pay a full semester of tuition while they are student teaching.

"We are constantly encouraged to think of it as an internship that the school has set up for us, which is nice, but nobody else that does an internship has to pay tuition," she said.

Plus, there's a virtual absence of scholarships, grants or financial systems in place to help student teachers offset the cost of student teaching.

According Brent Shock, director of Student Financial Assistance, there are no financial grants or scholarships specifically for the student teaching program. He advises people who are struggling to visit the financial aid office.

"We'll do our best to look through all the options, there might be something you haven't seen before and we have many resources available," Shock said.

Haillee Gibbons, a graduate assistant for the school of education, said the financial burdens of the education major can turn many away.

"I do worry that some low-income students do not go into education, or change their major from education to another field, due to its various financial requirements," Gibbons said.

After crunching the numbers, Chesnut asked several faculty members if they knew about any funding available. They all said no.

"No one outside the students really seems to know it's a problem," she said.

Chesnut, who has worked at least three jobs since she was 16, won't have an income next semester.

"We are strongly discouraged from having jobs, yet many of us need to have one in order to pay our bills," she said.

There are several other expenses that come up for student teaching that tend to add up, including cost of gas, getting fingerprinted, lodging, proper teaching clothes, miscellaneous supplies and food.

Reimbursement is not available, according to Gibbons.

"Obviously all of these factors are necessary, but since there are currently no scholarships or grants available to students with financial need while they are student teaching, it can be a financial hardship," Gibbons said.

Transportation becomes a huge issue, too, when students get placed at faraway locations.

Emily Vandercook, a junior art education major, cannot afford to buy or rent a car, so she's limited to local school options.

"It's not that these [local] schools are inadequate in any way, I just feel that I should have the same opportunities as my peers," Vandercook said.

Senior Cassie Cramer went through a semester of student teaching last semester and acknowledges several money woes within the program. However, she was fortunate to have other financial options.

"I was lucky that I could just rely on my parents for money, but I know a lot of people just can't do that," she said.

Chesnut said these issues rise from a broader systemic problem at Miami.

"With a high financial base for your students, some of us who are on the lower end, on those fringes, don't necessarily get thought about," she said.

Because of this, Chesnut said the costs associated with student teaching haven't been dealt with in the past.

"It probably just hasn't occurred to anyone before, with as many students we have that are doing student teaching, I can see a lot of money being necessary to deal with that and that's difficult to come up with," Chesnut said.

She said many people in the Miami community are just unaware, and that's why real solutions are lacking.

"One person in the faculty encouraged me to take a semester off so that I could work to earn money and come back and student teach later, which I didn't think was the best option for me," she said.

After hearing a few similar responses, Chesnut said she really did not know what her next step should be.

"I was annoyed at first, because I just don't feel like being poor should take away my right to do this program," Chesnut said.

But then, she decided to take action. Now, she's in the beginning stages of starting a fund for student teachers.

"This is really in the beginning stages, just rallying the troops and seeing what we can do," she said.

Vandercook said providing basic aid specifically for student teachers would take some of the burden off her shoulders.

"Having more resources for student teachers would be  fantastic," she said.

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