What to Expect During My Graduate School Internship

Andrew C. McMillan
Andrew C. McMillan
High school principal; Ed.D. in Educational Administration
Older gentleman helping his student teacher in a classroom.

Teachers are learners too. The best teachers continuously hone their craft, whether it be implementing new classroom instructional techniques, reflecting on what worked or what didn’t work during the summer months, and even seeking and obtaining advanced degrees in their specific field.

For the majority of educators, a desire to achieve a master’s or even a more advanced degree is strong. With advanced degrees comes educational opportunities such as internships, practicums, of field experiences. During these internships, teachers and educators have the ability to learn and grow further in their field. Additionally, many states recognize and reward those with advanced degrees with higher salaries and/or additional supplements to their contracts.

What is a Graduate School Internship?

Once you have been accepted into graduate school, most programs require an internship, practicum hours, or field experience, regardless of the degree area you are working in. These experiences are designed to provide greater understanding at a deeper level than the undergraduate level. Internships are based on the specific area educators concentrate on. For most, an internship program is the last step before obtaining an advanced degree, and can vary differently based on the educator’s field. In the end, internships provide exposure to the field of study you are working in and help solidify if the job is right for you.

What Will You Learn During Your Internship?

Internships, practicums, or field experiences all equate to the same thing. These requirements within graduate school programs provide educators the chance to gain valuable experience, expertise, and opportunities to grow professionally, while satisfying college requirements for an advanced degree. What you learn in an internship varies greatly based on the type of internship or program you are enrolled in.

For classroom teachers seeking a master’s degree in their specific content, an internship program could involve matching you with a seasoned educator to learn mastery concepts or involve researching new and inventive ways of delivering content. For classroom-based teachers seeking to move into school administration, an internship program will look vastly different. In those settings, classroom teachers are exposed to more building and district-level decisions as they are typically assigned a school-level principal or administrator to shadow and learn from. In these internships, graduate students are given tasks to accomplish, and those tasks represent a variety of potential things a future administrator would be responsible for.

For those already in administration and seeking higher degrees such as Educational Specialist or Doctoral degrees, the level of internship typically goes even higher, with tasks and requirements tailored more to the district level, involving examining board policies, state and federal programs, and designed around a more district or systems approach, rather than local school level. Ultimately, any internship based on your personal choice will look different.

Best Practices to Keep in Mind

Regardless of your choice of program, applying for and being accepted into an advanced degree program takes hard work and dedication. Many educators enrolled in graduate school programs are also still teaching full time, which, in addition to general teaching responsibilities, could include coaching duties, club/group advisor responsibilities, and any other duties or time constraints teachers may have.

In my experience, having gone through multiple graduate school internships and field experiences, several key practices helped me get through. First, don’t do it alone. In every school building, there are teachers who have a desire to go back to school and pursue advanced degrees. In all of my graduate school internships, I worked with a cohort of colleagues to push through together. Our cohort allowed for us to bounce ideas off of each other, carpool to classes if necessary, and hold each other accountable during our program. Having someone to share your experiences with can prove beneficial!

Additionally, gathering a group of your colleagues to begin an advanced degree can benefit you financially. Many colleges and universities seek districts willing to sponsor advanced degree cohorts and typically will provide some type of discounted tuition rate for school districts and schools where there is mutual interest.

Secondly, quickly develop great time management skills or your experience will be a disaster. Prepare yourself mentally for the fact that there will be weekends where your time is spent doing graduate school work. Schedule yourself in a program where the time parameters are clearly defined, including your course of study, and what a sample schedule looks like. Many graduate school programs tailor classes for the summer months for working professionals, and many of these classes are labeled as “intensives,” where more hours are spent in class, including weekend classes, but are shorter in length as far as the semester is concerned. Take advantage of summer course offerings, and even work to complete internship requirements during the summer as well!

Finally, regarding internships, make sure your current administrative team is aware of your desire and acceptance into a program. Having a supportive administrative team is crucial to the success of your internship. Most administrative degree internships require you to shadow a school-level leader outside of your own building for at least one full day, and could even involve completing administrative tasks both in your building and outside your building. Talking with your current leadership team will let them know of your needs and provide them with opportunities to help you grow.

Additionally, your best resume is your current job. As you complete your internship requirements, the things you have learned and experienced are great talking points for future positions where you can put your newly acquired skills to the test.

Ultimately, teachers are always learning. We seek to learn new and creative ways to work with our students, and we strive to be better teachers daily. Finding the right graduate school program and subsequent internship opportunities can benefit teachers in a variety of ways, leading to better outcomes for our students and schools.

*Updated November, 2020
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