Teacher residencies: A foundation for teacher retention?

A solid preparation program is the foundation for a successful career in any field. Teacher residency programs take a page from medical training programs to provide an immersive and practical learning experience for aspiring teachers. Explore with me how these programs prepare teacher candidates to start strong and feel confident continuing their careers in the classroom.

Faced with writing a blog for our teacher retention and recruitment roundtable discussion, I can’t help but reflect on the questions John Holland asked in his letter to future teachers: Why did I choose teaching and why have I stayed?

I chose teaching for a variety of reasons. I come from a family of teachers. I love learning and value the interactive process of discovering new things. I am good with young adults and have spent much of my life seeking opportunities to work with them. And, as I tell my students when I’m in a feisty mood, I like the sound of my own voice.  

These were some of the reasons that I chose teaching as a career, but I stayed because the actual experience of teaching proved to be much different and so, so much better than I could have ever imagined.

Like Justin Minkel, I’ve been at the same school for over a decade. I continue teaching because everyday is new. I can’t imagine any other job that would engage my mind or provide me with as many stimulating problems to solve.

More pragmatically, though, I’ve stayed in teaching because I was adequately prepared. A combination of a good teacher education program, great support from my colleagues, and a healthy dose of luck (which resulted in getting paired with a kind and collaborative teaching partner/mentor my first year of teaching) resulted in a solid foundation and entry into the profession. All of these support systems gave me the confidence and encouragement to be bold, even early in my career. With their help, I was able to begin and continue building my teaching and teacher leadership experiences for the past fourteen years.  

Thankfully for those aspiring to teach now, the support that I had to piece together is more intentionally woven into various teacher residency programs, which model themselves after medical residencies to prepare teacher candidates for uniquely challenging situations. Programs such as these have already seen incredible success, as detailed in this Learning Policy Institute report. By looking at the two models side by side, we can see how residency programs work differently from traditional preparation programs, and how they provide a baseline for creating even better programs in the future.


In the medical residency model, the goal is to prepare future doctors for the various tasks, cases, and possible diagnoses they may encounter. To do this, residents do rotations over the course of three years, with exposure to the ER, obstetrics, orthopaedics, and other specialties. These rotations are paired with a clinical placement where residents are assigned a patient load and given the chance to compare the consistency of daily medical practice with specialized fields.

Teacher residency programs, such as the top rated Richmond Teacher Residency (RTR), in Richmond, Virginia, apply the theory of this model in a more focused way. Instead of a traditional teacher prep program, which typically limits student teachers to one or two short field experiences, this residency model places teacher candidates in classrooms immediately and keeps them there through the duration of their program.

Early, full immersion in the classroom is essential. It provides practical application for theoretical learning. Future programs might even take this a step further by allowing for rotations into a variety of classrooms and schools so that teachers can be exposed to even more potentialities.

Peer support

Medical residents complete their work as a cohort. This allows them to have consistent support over the course of their intensive training and also offers a natural competition and growth measure as all work towards similar goals.

Where traditional university programs have to struggle against the odds of large class sizes when trying to create intimate cohorts, a teacher residency program limits the number of teacher candidates it accepts each year to create a collegial support system.

The unfortunate side effect of this is that it limits access. However, if school districts rethink the way they invest in and value teacher preparation, more universities could shift their current, traditional programs towards the more efficient residency model.


Even though a medical resident is assigned his or her own patient work load, they are never alone during their training. Their attending physician, a master doctor who oversees their process, is alongside the resident to provide training, support, and legal oversight into their patient care.

In a residency model, such as the Boettcher Teacher Residency in Denver, CO, teachers are partnered with a mentor teacher, who works like an attending physician, to co-plan, support, and monitor progress. Once teachers finish their initial residency year in this mentor teacher’s classroom, they have continued support from this teacher, program faculty, and their cohort for an additional two to five years.

While there are clearly more topics to be discussed as we seek solutions for the teacher recruitment and retention struggle our country is facing, investing in current teacher residency models to help future teachers enter the classroom better prepared is a great place to begin. Supporting teacher candidates with rotations and deep field experiences, peer based support systems, and strong mentorship, will help those new to our profession have a stronger foundation on which to build a career in the classroom.

Jessica’s post is part of CTQ’s May/June blogging roundtable on teacher shortages. To join the conversation, comment on this blog and read the other blogs in this series. You can find an updated list of all posts on this page. Follow CTQ on Facebook and Twitter to see when each new blog is posted, and use #CTQCollab to join the conversation on social media.


  • ReneeMoore

    Teacher Residencies: Amazing Potential..

    Your piece reminded me of the wonderfully challenging article by the late Ron Thorpe (former NBPTS president/CEO) in the September 2014 Kappan, "Residency: Can It Transform Teaching The Way It Did Medicine?"

    Using an historical lens, Thorpe reminded us that the medical profession has not always had the respect it takes for granted now, and that there was a time not too long ago, historically speaking, when doctors were not systematically or thoroughly prepared. 

    He compared teacher education to med school saying, "The best university-based programs in the country can’t prepare a 22-year-old for the challenges of effective autonomous practice any more than a degree from Harvard Medical School prepares an M.D. to care for patients."

    That article also reminded us that these medical residencies we now take for granted are in large part financed through Medicaid and Medicare. That fact demonstrates the importance our national leaders placed on having properly prepared medical professionals. As a society, we've been slower to acknowledge [aka put our money where our mouths are] the importance of well-prepared teachers. But like Thorpe, I argue that if we prepared teachers the way we prepared doctors and made Board certification a natural professional expectation, public perception of the profession as a whole would shift accordingly. 

    You've also got me thinking, and digging, to find out if any Historically Black Colleges or Universities have or are considering teacher residency programs, and what that could mean. 

    • JustinMinkel

      Mentorship: Making our thinking visible

      Renee, of all the brilliant things Ron Thorpe has said, the one that has stuck with me is his point relative to the strong mentorship Jessica describes: Student teachers can see what we DO. They can't see what we THINK.

      In my teaching, I have learned to do more Think-Alouds with my students, so they not only see me model the action I want them to do in that lesson, but the thinking behind it. Example: Modeling the way a reader poses question to her/himself while reading, not just decoding the words on the page.

      It's critical that in those residency models, candidates aren't just seeing their mentor teacher lead a guided reading session, but they're getting a glimpse into the prep work the teacher did in her head the night before, possibly considering running records or other assessments to determine what focus that day's guided reading session would have.

      Finland talks about teaching as a "thought profession." We do this work with our hands, but also with our hearts and our heads.

  • JonEckert

    Love the reason you stayed

    Jessica, I love the passion and energy that comes through in your writing. Working in teacher preparation, I also like the recommendations you make for effective preparation. Partnerships between districts and colleges are so important to ground theory in practice. You are definitely one of the master teachers that beginning teachers need to know.



  • JessicaCuthbertson

    If I Had a Prep Redo…


    Thanks so much for highlighting the power of the residency model and ways we should rethink teacher prep. I was an "accidental teacher" — I didn't study education during my undergrad years and found myself teaching my first groups of students with zero practical classroom experience (other than a six week summer internship supporting summer school students making the transition from elementary to middle school). I learned how to teach on the job — less than ideal and completely unfair to students and families. I taught in a very homogeneous small school with high parent engagement, high test scores, and lots of support — these factors played a huge role in my ability to grow my teaching skills, stay in the profession for more than 2-3 years, and eventually teach in more diverse contexts. 

    If I had a "redo" I would have chosen a residency model. The best professional learning experiences in my career have involved observing other teachers (with lab debriefs or via learning walks/professional rounds), co-teaching and learning from informal and formal mentors, and the support of peers. Access to these supports varies widely depending on your teaching context and assignment. 

    We shouldn't leave preparation and professional growth to chance but that's what currently happens. I agree with Renee (and the late Ron Thorpe) that making board certification a national professional expectation would go a long way in improving prep and professional learning for educators systemwide. 

  • TriciaEbner

    Residency makes sense

    I know we often use medical metaphors in education. Sometimes they're not great comparisons, but often they are. When I think about the reasons the medical profession requires residencies, they parallel so many of the reasons we should have residencies in education, and this post points that out so well. When I think about the mistakes I made my first year of teaching, and how a residency might have helped me better process and reflect on those mistakes, I wish I had had that opportunity myself. When I reflect back on the 26 years I've experienced education as a practitioner, I see we have made huge strides in mentorship and supporting our newest members to the field. But we still have much to do. 


  • KristaGalleberg

    Residency recommendations in California?

    Thank you for this post! I am currently an undergraduate studying political science, and I am planning to get a teaching credential after I graduate so I can become an elementary school teacher. I want the best preparation possible, and I am wondering if anyone has recommendations for high-quality preparation programs in the Bay Area (or other places in California). I am currently considering Stanford, UCBerkeley, Santa Clara, and Aspire Teacher Residency. Any thoughts on these, or any suggestions for other programs in California that I should consider applying to? Thank you!