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Graduate Teacher Residency Programs Help Educators Make the Grade

By Margaret Loftus

March 30th, 2017
US News and World Report Story

As an editor who oversaw education coverage at The Indianapolis Star from 2005 to 2009, Keith Manring was well-versed in the challenges many public school systems face. When he decided to become a teacher in 2009, he wanted the strongest foundation possible to succeed in the classroom.

“I knew that retention for new teachers was low,” he says, and he didn’t want to be “a statistic that failed.”

After considering a number of teacher training programs geared toward career-switchers, Manring, 54, applied to the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, which offers support to about 180 aspiring educators each year to pursue graduate teaching degrees in science, technology, engineering and math fields. Manring enrolled at the nearby University of Indianapolis, where he took a series of intensive summer courses before he was placed in a classroom alongside a veteran teacher; by late winter, he was teaching on his own.

As part of the deal, he also received a stipend of $30,000 toward tuition and living expenses while at UIndy in return for agreeing to teach at a high-need school in Indiana for at least three years after his graduation in 2011.

The Wilson program’s approach is based on the teacher residency model, an alternative and increasingly popular path to becoming an educator that is often especially appealing to nontraditional students. Similar to the medical school residency, where physicians are trained in hospitals alongside practicing clinicians, these teacher prep programs give participants almost immediate exposure to leading a K-12 classroom instead of holding off and providing a shorter student-teaching stint just before they earn a degree.

“The best place to train a teacher is in a school,” says Mark Neal, the director of Project Inspire, a teacher residency in Chattanooga, Tennessee. “Everything you’re learning is being applied in a classroom.”

Residencies are typically comprised of a partnership between a high-need school district, a graduate school that offers master’s coursework and a coordinating nonprofit. Residents take an initial load of classes in the summer and then jump right into co-teaching for a full school year while completing graduate coursework in the evenings and on weekends. Stanford University, DePaul University and the University of Denver's Morgridge College of Education are among those that have partnered on teacher residencies.

The goal is to staff positions that are most in demand at underserved schools and in hard-to-fill subject areas, such as math and science.

“Traditionally, schools will train a teacher, and they land where they will. With a residency, they’re looking to fill specific, demonstrated needs,” explains Tamara Azar, chief external relations officer at the National Center for Teacher Residencies, a Chicago-based network that supports 32 such programs nationwide.

The linchpin of the model is the mentor teacher, a seasoned veteran trained to coach and co-teach with residents and gradually ease them into more responsibilities throughout the school year. At Virginia’s Richmond Teacher Residency, a partnership between the city’s public school system and Virginia Commonwealth University, instructional coaches are carefully selected through a competitive application process, trained and matched with residents.

The screening process can be rigorous. Candidates for the Richmond program, for instance, must present a sample classroom lesson to K-12 students and lead a group discussion on an urban issue with other applicants.

“We give them feedback and ask them how to redesign and reteach a lesson,” says Therese Dozier, the program’s director. “If you don’t embrace feedback, you’re not going to work well in an urban school.”

The program recruits heavily from the local community, and the diversity of participants has increased significantly in recent years; 43 percent of the 2016-2017 class is African-American, Hispanic or Asian compared with 22 percent in 2011-2012, the first cohort. Grads commit to teaching in a Richmond public school for at least three more years.

Teacher residencies aren’t for everyone. Regardless of their experience, residents say the workload makes for a demanding year.

“It’s very demanding and difficult, but I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way,“ says Emily Powers, 32, a resident in Richmond co-teaching fifth grade at Bellevue Elementary School, who thinks that she’ll “have a leg up over other first-year teachers who have not been exposed to every minute detail that teaching involves.”

Plus, she gets a $24,000 stipend and a special tuition rate to VCU during the residency. And there’s the potential of a job: The program boasts a 100 percent placement rate to date for its five completed cohorts, which have ranged in size from nine to 30 residents.

So far, retention rates are promising. While federal data indicate that about 1 in 6 public school teachers leave the profession within the first five years, other estimates suggest that the figure might be as high as 50 percent. In 2015-2016, the five-year retention rate across NCTR programs was 70 percent.

Even before they set foot in an elementary, middle or high school, participants take classes and field trips that shed light on the low-income communities in which they’ll be placed. In Richmond, residents are encouraged to go to community events and connect with families of students.

Class material is also often geared toward helping residents who have professional experience in writing or science, say, learn techniques to pass on that knowledge. “Just because you know something doesn’t mean you’re good at teaching it. They trust you with the content and teach you how to teach it,” says Josh Bearman, 39, who ran education programs for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation in Annapolis, Maryland.

Five years later, he’s teaching earth science at the city’s Lucille M. Brown Middle School. He credits seminars on life skills – how to control your energy, for instance, and organizational strategies – with helping him learn to pace himself that first year and to further expand his science knowledge.

Many residents say that co-teaching and feedback from mentor teachers has been invaluable in helping them get their bearings in the classroom. Bearman, who became a coach after his residency, says the dialogue allows residents to constantly reassess their performance. Even after residents earn their degrees, career coaches are available to help.

This story is excerpted from the U.S. News "Best Graduate Schools 2018" guidebook, which features in-depth articles, rankings and data.