Work-Based Learning Manual

North Dakota's How-To Guide For Work-Based Learning


Chapter 9

Teacher Externships



What are Teacher Externships?

Teacher externships are work-based learning and professional development opportunities that provide teachers extended exposure to the contemporary work environment and the types of careers their students may pursue. They are hands-on learning experiences that help teachers enrich their classroom pedagogy by using real-world applications of the academic content they teach. By having their own WBL experiences, teachers also can become better-equipped to prepare students for WBL activities. Unlike regular summer jobs, externships involve explicit preparation, reflection during and after the experience, and completion of specific products, such as lesson plans.

Externships afford teachers the opportunity to build personal relationships with employers and the employees who are their colleagues during the externship and thus become ambassadors for WBL programs. After hosting teacher externships, employers may become more willing to engage in other WBL activities.

While student internships are career preparation activities for students who have yet to enter the workforce, teacher externships are opportunities for experienced professionals to enhance their knowledge and skills in ways that will benefit their students over the long term. Teachers can also benefit the employers who host their externships by bringing fresh perspectives to challenges in the workplace.

Which Teachers Participate in Teacher Externships?

All teachers can benefit from teacher externships, especially those who work with seventh- through twelfth-grade students who participate in WBL activities.  Participation in teacher externships should be voluntary. Depending on the design of the externship program, teachers may earn academic or continuing education credit.  Most are paid at least a nominal stipend.

How are Teacher Externships Structured?

Teacher externships usually take place during the summer, typically for 30 to 40 hours per week for a period of one to eight weeks. As with other WBL activities, the length and structure of teacher externships should reflect local needs and opportunities (e.g., availability of positions, teacher interest, or funding for stipends). Teacher externs typically meet periodically to reflect, share observations, or discuss ideas for how to use their externship experiences to enrich their teaching. Other reflection activities might include blogging, journaling, or writing articles for publication.

The content of each teacher externship should be agreed upon by both the employer and the teacher, with the WBL coordinator or school administrator playing a facilitating role. Often, teachers work on a project that provides real value to the employer and can be completed in the designated timeframe. Examples of teacher externship projects include: research on operating efficiencies between departments; process redesign; or market research. Alternatively, teachers might rotate through several departments within an organization, perhaps filling in for vacationing employees, in order to learn about several careers in which their students may be interested. Externships should not be used to fill positions that otherwise would be available to part- or full-time employees.

Teachers are often expected to develop lesson plans during their externship that use real-world work situations to teach academic content. The lesson plans are typically presented to the employer host and shared among participating teachers, their colleagues, and REA staff at the end of the externship.

Teacher externships are usually compensated in the form of a stipend. Funding for stipends may be provided by REAs, employers, chambers of commerce, or economic development agencies. Institutions of higher education (IHEs) may participate by providing academic or continuing education credit. Decisions about stipends and academic credit need to be made early in the planning process to ensure that adequate information is in place for outreach to employers and teachers.  Because teacher externships usually take place in the summer, a principal or REA staff member will need to be available “on call” to help resolve any problems that may arise.

To learn more about well-established teacher externship programs in the Fargo area and elsewhere, see the Resources section.

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How to Implement a Teacher Externship

Successful teacher externships require collaboration, communication, and preparation by REA staff, school and district administrators, employer organizations, employers, and IHEs. Teacher externships require extensive planning, which should begin early in the school year. As noted in the Introduction, the following steps are involved in implementing a teacher externship program.

  1. Working with REA staff, school administrators, employer organizations, and IHEs, determine the scope and structure of the externship program, including policies that will govern teacher selection, stipends, and academic credit as well as the roles each partner will play.
  2. Budget for any REA or school district contribution to extern stipends. Determine funding expectations of employers who host teacher externs.
  3. Assess teacher interest in externships and identify which industries and employers should be targeted for recruitment as hosts.
  4. Recruit employers to host externships; because hosting an externship requires a significant commitment from an employer, this may be a lengthy process.
  5. Select teacher applicants, but allow host employers to interview and select the teachers for externships.
  6. Facilitate the design of the externship, working with both the teacher and the employer.
  7. Determine who will monitor implementation of externships during the summer, resolve any problems that arise, and provide logistical support as needed. (Note: Existing externship programs have found that having an administrator “on call” is all they need, and that the need to call on that person seldom, if ever, arises.)
  8. Provide structured opportunities for teachers to reflect.
  9. Obtain evaluations from teachers and employers.
  10. Recognize participating teachers, employers, and higher education partners.

Due to the complexity of planning and implementing teacher externships, the WBL coordinator would be well-advised to start on a very small scale. Once a track record has been built and the challenging issues resolved, expansion can go forward with greater confidence. The following text provides a more detailed description of the implementation steps listed above, presented in the form of a time line, which can be condensed or stretched out based on local circumstances.

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Suggested Implementation Time Line

Note: Throughout this manual, the term WBL coordinator (typically REA staff member) is used to refer to the individual responsible for supporting the planning and implementation of WBL activities. In the case of teacher externships, more of the responsibility should be assumed by school administrators and teachers. The WBL coordinator’s role should include employer recruitment, maintaining the WBL database, and providing logistical support.

The WBL coordinator should refer to the overall WBL plan (see Introduction), if there is one, to ensure that implementation of teacher externships for teachers from a specific school and specific employers is coordinated with other WBL activities planned for the same school or employers. Both the employers and the school staff will appreciate it if the WBL coordinator initiates contact for teacher externships in that larger context. The WBL coordinator should be careful in communicating with employers to avoid confusion if recruitment for student internships and teacher externships is occurring in the same time frame.

The WBL coordinator is assumed to be the person responsible for completing or assigning the tasks listed below, except where otherwise noted.

At or before the beginning of the school year

  • Convene the appropriate stakeholders (e.g., REA staff, school administrators, employer organizations, and IHEs) to design the externship program for the following summer, determine the policies that should govern its implementation, and define the roles that each stakeholder should play. Some of the basic policy choices are summarized in the table below.
Number of externships (goal)Factors may include:
  • Teacher interest.
  • Funding availability for extern stipends.
  • Outlook for employer recruitment.
  • Capacity of REA, IHE, school district, or other entity to provide logistical support during the summer.
  • Value of starting small and expanding over time.
Budget considerations
  • Size of stipend and number of externships.
  • Fees for IHEs to earn credit if not paid by teachers.
  • Host employers’ expected contribution.
  • Other funding sources (e.g., REA, school district, IHE, or local philanthropies).
Criteria and process for selecting teachersPossible criteria include:
  • Specific subjects or grade levels.
  • Involvement with preparing students for WBL activities.
  • Interest in specific high-demand industries/employers.
Selection process:
  • Application.
  • Selection of finalists by school administrators.
  • Employer interviews of candidates.
  • Final selection by employers.
Will teachers earn credit?
  • Postsecondary degree credit, continuing education credit, and/or licensure credit?
  • Identification of which IHEs will award credit.
  • Requirements (e.g., hours, deliverables) to earn credit.
  • Fees required for earning credit and who will pay.
Employer recruitment
  • WBL coordinator to draw on multiple resources (e.g., WBL database, personal networks of REA and school staff, Job Service ND, or others) to identify and recruit host employers.
  • Assistance from employer organizations such as chamber, economic development group, etc.
  • Targeted based on teacher interests.
  • Duration of externship (might vary among employers).
  • Hours per week (might vary among employers).
  • Frequency of meetings of teacher externs.
Work and learning plan for externships
  • Developed jointly by employers and teachers.
  • Special projects of value to employers or rotation through multiple departments.
  • Work assignments that are intellectually challenging and rigorous.
  • Specific learning goals negotiated among teacher, employer, and (if credit is to be awarded) IHE.
Supervision expectations
  • Employers to supervise day-to-day work.
  • Supervisory role for IHEs if they award credit.
  • Principal or WBL coordinator to ensure that teachers are accountable for deliverables (during or after externship).
  • Teachers to convene their own reflection meetings during the summer.
  • “On-call” REA or school administrator for troubleshooting any problems that arise.
Teacher responsibilities and deliverables
  • Meet employer expectations for punctuality, workplace behavior and attire, and quality of work.
  • Organize and participate in individual and group reflection activities.
  • Document achievement of learning goals.
  • Complete the process of making the policy decisions noted above, assigning roles, and securing necessary funding before starting to recruit teachers and employers.

Six months before the externship

  • Assess teacher interest in externships and identify which industries or employers are of greatest interest.
  • (Principals or WBL coordinator) Carry out initial teacher application and selection process, designating more “finalists” than there are anticipated slots so that employers can interview pre-qualified candidates and make their own final selections. A sample application is provided in the Resources section.
  • Review employer outreach section of the Introduction and begin targeted employer recruitment. Sample recruitment emails are provided in the Resources section, as is a form to use to confirm employer participation.
  • Work with employers interested in hosting externships to identify the work the extern will be expected to complete and define what they would look for in a teacher candidate. The employer checklist in the Resources section can be used for this task.

Four to three months before the externship

  • When employers and teachers are ready, have teacher candidates who meet the employers’ specifications send introductory notes to the employer hosts with their resumes. Allow employers to select which candidates they would like to interview.
  • (Teachers) Make appointments for interviews.
  • (Employers) Select teacher externs.
  • Continue outreach to employers and extern selection process, as needed, until recruitment goals are met.

Three to two months before the externship

  • Facilitate meetings between teachers and their externship supervisors to develop work and learning plans for the externship and define deliverables that will be expected. If credits are to be offered, IHEs should review the plans to ensure that they meet the criteria for awarding credit. (Note: These meetings could take place closer to the time of the externship if the employer needs more time to determine what its needs are. However, teachers need to know whether they will be participating in externships so that they and their families can plan around it for their summer break.)
  • Facilitate meeting(s) between IHEs and teachers who may be seeking credit for their externship to determine the role of the IHE in overseeing an externship, defining what deliverables will be required, and the procedure for paying fees. (Unless the REA or school district has planned and budgeted for these fees, the teachers will be responsible for paying them.)

Two months before the externship

  • (Principals and teachers) Agree on deliverables for reflection activities and lesson plans to be produced during and after externships.
  • (Teachers) Decide among themselves when, where, and how frequently they will meet as a group for reflection during their externships.
  • (Principals, WBL coordinator, or other administrator) Work with employers, teachers and IHEs (if engaged) to develop plans for progress reports and submission of deliverables.
  • Touch base with teachers and workplace supervisors to review and reconfirm the work and learning plans and make sure everyone knows what is expected of them.

One month before the externship

  • Touch base with teachers and host employers to reconfirm plans and expectations.
  • Make sure that procedures are in place for documenting hours worked, stipend payments, progress reports, reflection meetings, and deliverables.
  • (Teachers) Touch base with IHEs, if seeking credit for externship, to make sure that criteria, procedures, and fees for awarding credit are clearly understood.

One week before the externship

  • Send reminder to teachers and employers with all contact information, including the “on-call” REA or school administrator, so that any problems that arise can be addressed promptly.

During the externship

  • (Teachers)  Convene reflection meetings at the intervals previously designated. These are opportunities to share externship experiences, get ideas for resolving on-the-job challenges, report progress on work and learning plans, and try out lesson plan ideas for applying the externship experience to classroom teaching.  These meetings might also be occasions for presentations by employers about industry trends, workplace skills, training programs, or other topics that may be useful and interesting to teachers and their students.

One day to one week after the externship

  • Send email to employer hosts thanking them for providing teacher externship opportunities and asking them to complete an evaluation forms. Send emails to teachers asking them to complete evaluation forms as well. Samples of both are provided in the Resources section.
  • (Teachers) Send thank-you emails to host employers and the employees who supervised them directly.

At the beginning of the school year

  • Collect and review employer and teacher evaluations.
  • Follow up with employers and teachers regarding concerns or comments, as needed.
  • Consider holding a closing event where teachers present their externship accomplishments and employers share their views.
  • (IHE representatives) Meet with teachers to review their documentation and deliverables for earning credit. Touch base with employers if additional information is needed from them.
  • Schedule time for teacher externs to share their new lesson plans and externship experiences with colleagues at their schools and with REA staff.

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Teacher Externship Resources

Note: Forms can be printed to allow more space for responses.

Examples of externship programs: WBL coordinators should review the web sites below for description of existing teacher externship programs in Fargo, ND, Connecticut, and California. These offer several suggestions for the design of externships:

REA outreach:

  • Email to employer
  • Email for employers to forward
  • Participation form


  • Checklist/expectations
  • Evaluation


  • Application form
  • Evaluation

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