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As expectations for educators continue to rise, we must ensure that every aspiring teacher has an adequate opportunity to master and apply their craft.
Just like doctors in training, aspiring teachers need sustained clinical experiences alongside expert practitioners to build links between educational theory and practice and to develop the hands-on techniques and strategies that help children learn.
As director of the Sustainable Funding Project at Bank Street College, I regularly meet with educators, policy makers, and other stakeholders across the country to help advance high-quality teacher preparation through sustainably funded teacher residencies.
This past summer, I had the opportunity to observe district leaders, teachers, and university supervisors from TeachOregon’s Salem-Keizer Teacher Preparation Collaborative as they trained new mentor teachers in the effective co-teaching of new residents.
During and between the three days of sessions, the trainers reflected on how today’s residency programs are far more meaningful than their own traditional training experiences. As we discussed the ways in which year-long, pre-service residencies benefit new and prospective teachers, several themes emerged.
The first theme was that of classroom management. Most novice educators (and those who hire them) wish they had stronger skills in this area. Effective classroom management requires more than knowledge of tested techniques. Student teachers’ clinical placements typically begin after the school year starts and end 15 weeks later. So as novice teachers, they learn on their own, inventing approaches and piecing together techniques —often with limited success. In contrast, residents experience a complete school year from start to finish. They learn by doing and they carry this deeper understanding and direct experience into their own classrooms.
Planning is the second theme that loomed large. Student teachers start as observers, eventually planning their own lessons. Since student teachers submit model lessons for feedback well before they are to teach them, their plans may not be sync with the classroom’s pace. For residents, who are part of all planning processes, lessons are not so much “models” as well-planned roadmaps, informed by constant assessment of students’ needs. Student teachers also lack experience with the overall curricular vision, resulting in more isolated learning tasks for their students. Over the course of a year, residents see how individual lessons and units fit into overarching learning goals. They learn to design lessons that build towards challenging, meaningful projects — the kinds of projects that keep students engaged.
Third, there’s teaching quality. Residencies promise improved teaching — both during and after the residency. Students in classrooms with residents have been documented to make larger learning gains than those in other classrooms, with strongest benefits going to those with the most need. Residency graduates are also more effective teachers. Rigorous studies have documented their students outperform peers.
The residency structure promotes deep learning about how to teach. Because they work with trained mentors who are effective classroom teachers, expectations are high. Conversely, even the best student teaching placement cannot fully integrate prospective teachers into their classrooms. They have to learn fast through their observations, develop model lessons, finish up a structured unit on a deadline, and more.
Fourth, there’s professionalism. Becoming a teacher demands more than learning to plan and deliver instruction, which — given rising expectations and an increasingly diverse population— is a daunting task more fully accomplished in a residency. Teachers must also be organized, punctual, and reliable; able to calmly handle high-tension and even dangerous situations; ready to respectfully and productively work with other adults; prepared to present an appropriate public persona; and know how to inspire confidence in parents. Such professionalism develops over time and through relationships. Student teachers’ shorter experiences mean they have to sort this out after they are hired. Residents, however, gain a full year’s experience as professionals by doing the work alongside a mentor.
The fifth and final theme is employability and retention. Although residents essentially have a year-long interview for their future teaching jobs—and thus lots of opportunities to miss the mark—their host districts work hard to recruit them. District representatives in Salem-Keizer noted that graduates perform like second, third, even fourth year teachers and consequently get early job offers and their preferred school placements. Because they are better prepared, they are coveted recruits. For residents, the time investment is more than worth it. They are ready to pursue their chosen careers set up for success.
Furthermore, residents stay in teaching, with 80 percent to 90 percent of Salem-Keizer graduates still in their positions three to five years after beginning their careers, compared with 40 percent to 50 percent of other teachers.
These stable, effective school environments are possible through financially supported residencies. They should become the norm for teacher preparation programs and a preferred qualification in districts’ hiring decisions. Aspiring teachers — and their future students — deserve our public commitment to ensure everyone has access to the preparation they need to succeed in today’s classroom.
As director of Bank Street College’s Sustainable Funding Project, Karen DeMoss works to advance teacher residency programs at the grassroots level and meets with district leaders, preparation providers, and educators in cities across the country to help create pre-service co-teaching opportunities for aspiring teachers.