‘We’re suffering now:’ Student teachers make sacrifices in personal lives for education


Courtesy of Lily Mitchell

Lily Mitchell teaches a first grade class at Dodge Literacy Magnet Elementary.

Lily Mitchell spends her weekdays, from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., in the classroom, while running her own small business and working at a daycare to “be able to pay for life.”  

“I try to just be in the moment, what I’m doing in the moment,” Mitchell said.  “While I’m at school, I’m focusing on that.” 

She spends her evening doing lesson planning for the next day, and the middle of her night doing homework. Sometimes she is able to do her homework right before or after her day of student teaching, but rarely.  

“I don’t worry about the homework that I have to do later,” Mitchell said. “I’m with the kids doing whatever I need to get done … I don’t know if I actually balance it, but it works.”

Mitchell lives with her mom because she cannot afford to live on her own, despite her heavy schedule of work. 

Student teachers do not get paid. The elementary education program requires a semester of full-time student teaching on top of licensing requirements and everything else a student may be juggling.

Elizabeth Haskins is a returning adult learner, after working as a zookeeper for 10 years.  She is also a mom, a wife and owner of many animals.  

After Haskins gets back home from student teaching for the day, she spends the evening with her baby and pregnant wife, taking care of their animals, and then works on her lesson plans and homework at night.  She said it is hard to focus on her relationship amidst all of the “craziness.

“Going back to school is a hard decision, but I said for years if I didn’t become a zookeeper, I probably would have been a teacher,” Haskins said. “I joke all the time [that teaching is] pretty much the same  … Working with kids is so complex, and the behavior and the biology behind their behavior is so interesting to me.”

In her previous semesters, Haskins was able to bring her baby to class with her and said this semester has been much harder with student teaching and preparing for the licensing exams. During her lunch hours as a student teacher, she spends 10 minutes eating, pumps for 15 minutes and uses the bathroom if she can.

“Last night, I was doing lesson plans at 11 o’clock at night with my son asleep, and my wife asleep next to me, and I had all my papers spread out on top of her on the bed, trying to get everything done,” Haskins said.

She and her wife have been living off one income since 2019, due to not knowing if it was safe to work during her pregnancy during the pandemic. She said they have paid off their student loans as they go, but have credit card debt and struggle to get by.  

The couple paid $14,000 to conceive their first child and $22,000 for his birth. Haskins said that most of the stress in her life comes from worrying about finances and her child’s future. 

“We’re suffering now,” Haskins said. “We’re making the sacrifices now, so we can have a better future for us and the kids.”

While Haskins said the rigorousness program is not fun, she is still glad because when her kids go to school, she wants their teachers to be the “best of the best”.  

Haskins believes that a higher emphasis on self-care in the program is necessary due to the high rates of teacher burnout. She also believes that there should be more opportunities for student teaching earlier in the program.  This would allow students to figure out if teaching is for them before getting too far into the program and create more time to prepare for licensing requirements.

Based on her own schedule and calculations, Mitchell can only miss two days this semester of student-teaching in order to meet the requirements.  

“That’s difficult because life happens, you have family problems, health problems, life problems, teachers are allowed to be sick,” Mitchell said. “But basically student teachers are not. You have to be there every single day all day or you have to make it up.”

Mitchell said that it is recommended for students to not work during their student teaching semester, but she says this is hard when you are an adult and have to pay for life.

“I don’t know how they expect people to be able to pay for their house, pay for food, pay for gas, to even get anywhere,” Mitchell said.