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Challenges and opportunities in building a teacher-residency program

Challenges and opportunities in building a teacher-residency program

By Anne Tapp
April 12, 2018

This post is by Anne Tapp, PhD, acting assistant dean and professor at the Saginaw Valley State University College of Education, and originally published in Education Week on March 1, 2018. This article offers the practitioner perspective on the earlier post about “Exploring the potential of teacher residencies” by Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Midwest researcher Natalya Gnedko-Berry—available here.

Responding to the problem of practice

Teacher shortage has become a reality in Michigan. School leaders from across the state were calling our university offices, sometimes daily, to ask whether we had teachers available to fill their vacant classrooms. We knew we needed to be part of the solution.

So we began building an accelerated teacher residency program. Teacher residency programs include a classroom apprenticeship component, whereby teacher candidates are placed in classrooms under the supervision of an experienced mentor teacher, in addition to theoretical training. Now, in our first year of the teacher residency program at the Saginaw Valley State University (SVSU) College of Education, we have come a long way. Meanwhile, many other education stakeholders across the state, including the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) and the Midwest Alliance to Improve Teacher Preparation at REL Midwest, are also working to address teacher shortage and examining teacher residency programs as a potential strategy.

Implementing the program

The SVSU College of Education began developing its program—known as the Accelerated Certification with Residency (ACR)—in early 2016. Our first goal was to seek input from key stakeholders so that our teaching candidates would learn the skills most frequently sought by schools in our area. Findings showed an urgent need for certified teachers in all grade levels and subject areas. In addition, we combed through research and sought advice from other successful residency programs, which shared data and answered questions as we developed our model. Within the university, our development process included gaining buy-in from faculty both within the College of Education and in related content areas.

After our program was approved, there was still much left to do to ensure that our teacher candidates had classrooms in which to teach. With the help of our dean, we spread the word among area school districts about the ACR program. Most school leaders had not heard of a residency option for teacher candidates and needed to be educated. Meanwhile, we held job fairs to connect teacher candidates with schools who wanted to hire residents.

Now, more than 50 teacher candidates are filling once-vacant classrooms across Michigan for the 2017-18 school year. In our program, mentor teachers provide continuous support to the resident teachers in their schools. University supervisors, faculty, and staff all play a support role as well.

But the program’s rollout has come with some challenges. For example, one school district experienced backlash from parents who wanted a fully certified teacher in residents’ classrooms. In response, we presented to the school board and community about the knowledge and support resources that the ACR program provides, and the complaints disappeared.

In implementing the ACR program for the first time, we are gathering data and learning a great deal. We have designed the program to use the same program assessments as our traditional teacher preparation program, and each quarter we survey teacher candidates, mentor teachers, school leaders, university supervisors, and faculty. We have decided to make changes based on our initial findings, including front-loading the coursework for our candidates and mentor teachers to include information on soft skills such as classroom management and co-teaching.

Collaborating to improve the program and support other efforts

In October 2017, I joined colleagues from other Michigan teacher education programs and school districts to participate in a training on teacher residencies conducted by MDE and REL Midwest. Representatives from Bank Street College in New York City and Collaboration and Resources for Encouraging and Supporting Transformations in Education (CREST-Ed) at Georgia State University—two of the many programs we reviewed when creating SVSU’s ACR program—were in attendance. Having the opportunity to meet representatives from each program, listen to them speak, and collaborate with them during and after the session was invaluable. We have maintained relationships, and we discuss our programs on a regular basis.

Also of great value was the opportunity that the MDE-REL Midwest session provided to inform and interact with Michigan P-12 partners about our ACR program and to learn more about their needs. The idea of teacher residencies was a new concept for many, and they gained important information about this new teacher preparation model. Some school leaders who attended have reached out to us to ask more questions about residencies, co-teaching, and SVSU’s program, as well as to discuss opportunities for resident teachers in their districts.

We hope that our program and the connections we are building with P-12 partners and other residency programs, facilitated in part by the MDE-REL Midwest training, will build the foundation for a strong teacher residency model that will provide Michigan with effective teachers for years to come.

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Author(s) Information

Anne Tapp

Acting Assistant Dean and Professor | Saginaw Valley State University College of Education


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