Is "associate teacher" a good gig?

From Megan, a masters in teaching student at Columbia Teachers College:

I graduated this Spring and a good amount of the people I graduated with are definitely still looking for positions. Others, however, have found work at charter schools and private schools. There are a four people that I know of from my program working at my school, Harlem Success Academy. We will be working as Associate Teachers there.

I think that before the full scoop came out about the (NYC public school system) hiring freeze many of us were hoping to be in public schools and were not thinking seriously about charters. Our program does not place student teachers in charter schools, so we often don't know a huge amount about charters because we don't have first hand experience with them like we do with traditional public schools. Once it became apparent public school jobs were not going to hire, however, people have been thinking more seriously about all possibilities.

I think the issue individuals from my program have with charters is that many of them won't hire us as lead teachers even though we have already completed a full year of student teaching. Some of us are wanting our own classroom. Not all teacher education programs require such a long period of student teaching (it is my understanding most are just a semester) and we leave our program feeling prepared to lead a class (or as prepared as you can ever be-as you know teaching will be different every day, week, and year).

Those people that do not have jobs are certainly worried/stressed. It doesn't look great out there! I myself am thrilled to have landed a position and really excited about the year ahead. The thought of not having an income or benefits is really scary, especially when you are coming out of school with loans!

In charter world, the simple human capital move, the one which is becoming more and more common, is to have a junior varsity. In elementary schools, the JV is the second teacher in a classroom. In middle schools, the JV tends to be more of a leader of various small groups, often called "teaching fellow." The value to charters is obvious. You see people in action for a year. You then hire the best ones as full-time teachers.

Is it a good deal for the trainee? It's true you take a hit for a year on "prestige." And on money.

Yet I'd say definite yes if these conditions are met:

A) You are paired with an effective teacher (who is both good with the kiddos and with you-the-trainee, two different skills). Yet it's hard as an applicant to size up the mentor teacher.

B) There is a clearly delineated opportunity for the "associate" teacher to lead the class for significant periods, and to get frequent feedback on those "at bats." You can probably only learn that from a current associate teacher.

C) There is some sort of "legit" training (not just a throw-in hour each week). Though I suppose if conditions A and B were in place, this is less important.

D) Your non leading-the-class time with kids (whether that means teaching a small group or tutoring 1 or 2 kids) is not scattered and ad hoc, but focused. Same kids each day, clearly defined goals. Hundreds of hours of tutoring helps you develop a "gut sense on how kids really learn" without the challenges of group dynamics and classroom management.