Blog: The Educated Reporter

Report: Intensive Support for New Teachers Pays Off

A teacher in one of the Denver, Colo. schools  partnering with Urban Teacher Residencies United (UTRU) to provide intensive support to early career educators. (Photo credit: UTRU)

With an eye toward reducing turnover and improving student learning, districts nationwide are experimenting with “teacher residencies.” These programs, which provide intensive support to new teachers during the early years of their careers, are typically partnerships between schools of education and local districts. The idea is to better align the training with the on-the-job expectations. In a report for the nonprofit group Urban Teacher Residency United, Linda Perlstein takes a close look at the Denver Teacher Residency, and the residency program in place for teachers in the Aspire Charter Schools network. Perlstein, a veteran education writer (and EWA’s first public editor), discussed the report’s findings as part of our “Five Questions” series.

1. Who do you hope reads, and learns from, this report?

I saw the value of this report as not just aiming to help people who want to set up teacher residencies. It’s to help anyone who wants to deliver better teachers. Whether you’re a residency or a traditional program or something in between, it’s important to understand student teaching in and of itself is not as useful if it’s not tied directly to what you’re learning, and if it’s not done in a time frame that’s connected to what you’re learning in class.

There are a lot of lessons that are resonant for any kind of preparation program. Generally speaking, teacher training programs need to do better in making sure that what’s being taught is aligned to what the districts need their new hires to know and be able to do. The practical experiences need to be structured around what the (teaching) candidates are doing in the classroom.

2. Do we underestimate the difficulty of making the transition from learning about teaching to actually being the teacher?

Teaching is hard work. A lot of the burnout that first-year teachers experience seems to be mitigated if you’re not the sole teacher of record in a class — and that you have someone really good who’s really holding your hand throughout that first year. Doing a teaching residency is literally the only way I tell people to go into the profession now. When I have a friend who’s looking into teaching, I ask them: “Why wouldn’t you want to do it that way?”

3. How sustainable do you think the residency model is going to be, given that some of the most experienced teachers continue to retire at a high rate? Or do you think that this is something that, if it continues, those residency teachers will become the coaches and this kind of approach could then sustain itself?

We make the point in the report that the best coaches weren’t always the most experienced teachers. Aspire had some coaches that were second- or third-year teachers that were really good.

But these are expensive models. I think that’s the No. 1 thing that impacts the sustainability. If you factor in turnover and the cost of developing a teacher through the university system and whatever the public sector is paying to make that feasible, maybe you can successfully argue residencies are a smart investment. But when people see what the programs cost right now, the reaction typically is “That’s expensive.”

There’s really a lot to be learned from some of the principles behind the residency approach, in terms of the selection process, the coaching experiences and the alignment with higher education. That’s what’s important about looking at these exemplars and seeing what works.

4. What do successful residency programs look for when they select their coaches?

Residency programs look for coaches with potential, who are committed to improving their own capability as well as the skills of the student-teacher. But not everyone who’s a good teacher is going to be a good coach. A good residency program will provide a high degree of structure and clear expectations for both the mentors and the student-teachers they supervise.

A lot of people can teach really well but not necessarily transmit to others what that means or what that looks like. In a strong residency program, the coaches are also participating in professional development to be good mentors. That’s the difference between just throwing someone into a classroom with a cooperating teacher for student teaching who hasn’t really gotten any specific training about how to help that person develop as a professional.

5. Would there be benefits to adopting some of those pieces even if a full residency program wasn’t feasible?

Definitely. I’ve heard from so many teachers in my time reporting on education who learned great things in their schools of education that aren’t related to what they have to do in the classroom or they learned something but it was way too far in the rear view mirror by the time they got into the classroom. The residency model really addresses a lot of those issues that you commonly hear from people who are entering the profession. Everybody wants their education to be relevant to what they have to do on the job.