How do we prepare teachers to be good at their jobs and stay in the profession long enough to really make an impact? This is the zillion dollar question.

Alternative certification programs, most prominently represented in the media by Teach For America, recruit altruistic-minded applicants and throw them into the toughest classes with barely a summer of preparation. I was a New York City Teaching Fellow (cohort 6) and the trial by fire model prematurely pushes out a lot of would-be great teachers.

Teacher education schools can offer training in education theory and practice, featuring the highly valuable student teaching component. The opportunities afforded by site visits and student teaching— to get a feel for the preparation, personalities, logistics, execution, failures, and successes of life in the classroom— are invaluable. There’s a steep learning curve in becoming a strong teacher, and the more quality time one spends in a living classroom before it’s all his or her responsibility is golden. Unfortunately, many good graduate programs in teacher education are cost-prohibitive. Would-teachers who want to get good preparation can’t sustain the amount of debt or the interruption of income. Instead they never become teachers or opt for the alternative certification meat-grinder.

There is a third way: the Urban Teacher Residency.  Non-teachers apply to be Residents. If accepted, they basically spend a year— paid, not in debt— as apprentice-teachers and students of the craft— and then commit to teaching for at least 3 years in the district that they trained in.

From the URTU (Urban Teacher Residency United) website: 85% of all Residency graduates stay in their schools beyond those crucial first three years, reducing the high teacher turnover rates that cost districts millions and leave students in the dark.

The URTU formed in 2007. The model received national attention from a deeply researched and highly readable 2008 report by the Center for Teaching Quality and the Aspen Institute.

In the short term, it’s expensive to pay people to learn the job for a year. In the long run, well-prepared teachers stay, accumulate expertise, and become truly highly effective at getting the best out of students. If this model works as well as it seems to, why does it seem like no one is talking about it?

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