Teacher Preparation Pathways: Deciding Between Student Teaching and an Intern Credential

by John Montesi

Pursuing a degree in education or teaching can take you many rewarding places during your career. If you’re interested in working toward a teaching degree, it’s important to explore the various teacher preparation pathways to find your best fit. In California, students enrolled in teacher preparation programs can choose to pursue an Intern Credential or earn their credential as a student teacher. While these two pathways lead to the classroom, they come with different expectations and requirements. Here’s what you need to know about these two pathways to teaching credentials—and the merits of each.

Teaching Under an Intern Credential

An Intern Credential is a way for a student who is pursuing their teaching certificate to work as an educator—with an official contract and their own salary—and gain practical, first-hand experience as the primary educator within a classroom. Maria J. Gross, Ed.D., director of clinical experiences, intern coordinator, and assistant professor for the School of Education at Azusa Pacfic University, explained that, “Teaching under an Intern Credential provides the teacher candidate intern with a salary and extensive on-the-job experience as the teacher-of-record.”

Intern Credentials are ideal for independent, self-motivated students who are not afraid to place themselves in the challenging situation of leading a classroom while receiving occasional, focused support. Teaching under an Intern Credential means that “the intern’s site mentor and district support is more intermittent and often takes place during professional development, before or after school meetings, or in professional learning communities,” said Gross.

Considering Student Teaching

On the other hand, student teaching provides future educators the opportunity to observe and work closely with a teacher, acting as an unpaid but valuable teacher-in-training who is there to learn in a real classroom environment before progressing to a teacher-of-record. “A teacher candidate placed in a student teaching position works directly with the teacher-of-record, progressing from actively observing to teaching full-time during their Clinical Practice,” Gross noted.

For those who prefer to have frequent support and the ability to ask questions often, this may be the preferred approach to earning their credential. Gross confirmed that the student teacher’s district/school site support is present all day, every day of their Clinical Practice.

Choosing Between Teacher Preparation Pathways

Deciding which credential pathway to pursue can feel like a big question for some students. Gross described how the process is commonly approached at Azusa Pacific University, and noted that, “Teacher candidates are made aware of the Intern Credential pathway during APU information sessions, Division of Teacher Education orientations, and Clinical Practice orientation.”

Applicants can learn more about the additional responsibilities of the pathway via the school’s information sessions and through its Intern Credential support information online resource. Interested teacher candidates can contact their credential analyst to discuss the Intern Credential eligibility requirements, as well as the intern coordinator to discuss maintaining the Intern Credential.

“The decision is personal and based upon the need or desire to work full-time while completing program requirements,” Gross said. “The Intern pathway is not for every teacher candidate—it is hard work to balance APU coursework, working, and life—especially now that Clinical Practice expectations include the CalTPA, a new California teaching performance assessment.”

Benefits of an Intern Credential

There are definite benefits to the hard work that goes into pursuing an Intern Credential. Gross explained, “An intern is already hired to be a teacher, thus supplementing APU course instruction with immediate applicability and employment.” As an intern, you also are fulfilling your calling sooner, which means you get to meet California’s need for more qualified and caring teachers more quickly.

For those who have the desire and ability to pursue teaching through an Intern Credential, Gross noted that there are a number of other obvious benefits. She noted that interns are uniquely able to demonstrate their teaching competence while working full-time and being supported by both an APU mentor and a district employee. Starting your job while still having input and assistance from skilled mentors is a gift—just like your lessons could be to the next generation of talented students.

Interested in attending Azusa Pacific University and working toward a career in education? Find your pathway to becoming a teacher.