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.

Rotations

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.

Mentorship

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.