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The Promise of Teacher-Residency Programs

Darnell Fine

Imagine you're a long-time inner-city school leader. As such, you've witnessed and participated in several new teacher-induction programs. Each followed more or less the same formula: Prospective educators spent a semester in one of your classrooms, received teaching "practice," and then raced off to another institution for a full-time position. Year after year, your school is a pit stop for student teachers to receive pedagogical tune-ups and superficial adjustments.

There are times when you hire new educators fresh out of their own student-teaching experiences. You recognize that although they are now certified by the state, they still need support. Many struggle with using the theories they learned in college to inform their practice. But you are too bogged down by administrative duties to provide new teachers with the mentorship they need.  So you fund outside professional development, encouraging the teachers to continue coursework at local universities or attend education conferences; however, many of the workshops and seminars aren't attuned to the mission of your school or aligned with your curriculum. As a result, new teachers learn even more theories that don't inform their practice.

Recognizing the need to break tradition, you submit a grant proposal to a foundation for an innovative approach to teacher development. Akin to a training program in a medical school, you propose a three-year teacher-residency program for new teachers. One organization thinks this is a wonderful idea and grants you $1 million to implement your model. Here's the basic outline:

Year 1: Prospective educators observe lessons from cooperating teachers. Working with university supervisors, they analyze the data they collect, noting best practices. The teachers also complete coursework that is funded by the grant.

Year 1.5: Prospective teachers assume the role of student teachers. Cooperating teachers guide student teachers in building class communities, planning curriculum, classroom instruction, and employing assessments. University supervisors continue to participate in this process, and cooperating teachers are awarded a stipend.

Year 2: Student teachers assume the role of associates, co-teaching with lead classroom teachers. Mentor teachers outside of the classroom provide additional support for associate teachers. Associate and mentor teachers receive stipends provided by the grant.

Year 3: Associates assume the role of lead classroom teachers. They participate in Critical Friends Groups (CFGs), or professional learning communities, to learn how to solicit and accept criticism from school constituents. CFG consultation and training is paid for by the grant.

After the residency, the teachers will begin coursework to learn best practices regarding how they can mentor new teachers and lead CFGs. Your school will be seen as the model for continued professional growth, transforming the direction of teacher education and how funds should be allocated for new teacher development. End of story.

Darnell Fine is a teacher-support specialist trained in Critical Friends Group (CFG) facilitation. Before moving to teach at an independent school in New York, Darnell served as a mentor teacher and a cooperating teacher with Atlanta Neighborhood Charter School's New Teacher Residency Program.


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