Teacher training: what's the best way?
Some policymakers say the focus needs to be on improving traditional education schools, while others are advocates of so-called alternative models, which can speed up entry into the profession.
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One relatively new alternative model is the urban teacher residency. It produces only a small fraction of America's 3.9 million teachers, yet those going through the program seem to be well trained and willing to teach in the highest-needs classrooms – and to stay there for many years.Skip to next paragraph
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"There's traditionally a barrier between what happens in the classroom setting and what happens in university course work," says Anissa Listak, executive director of the Urban Teacher Residency Institute in Chicago. "Unlike traditional university programs where the course work is the center and the apprenticeship fits itself around that, the residency flips that on its head."
A full year in Chicago classrooms
The Academy of Urban School Leadership in Chicago, where Klinsky works now, is one of three well-established urban teacher residencies in the United States. Each AUSL resident spends a full year in Chicago classrooms, paired with a trained mentor-teacher who gives feedback, coaching, and a chance to gradually have more control over the curriculum. For that year, each resident is paid $32,000 by AUSL, a nonprofit. The money for such payments is obtained largely through fundraising.
The residents' in-classroom experience is accompanied by relevant education course work at a local university, culminating in a master's degree. In addition, the program demands that residents make a four-year commitment to continue teaching in Chicago schools when they graduate. For the first two years on the job, they can count on more coaching and support at their school.
The result: Even after the four-year commitment is up, more than 80 percent of AUSL grads are still teaching in Chicago classrooms, and 87 percent are involved in education in some way.
"The university does a good job of giving them content. We give them the hands-on experience of how to deliver it," says Debbi Thompson, a mentor-teacher at Chicago's Dodge Renaissance Academy. The K-8 school, where 86 percent of the students come from low-income families, is one of AUSL's six "teaching academies" in Chicago. It's also where Barack Obama announced his choice for education secretary.
Ms. Thompson is in the unusual position of having two residents in her classroom. Now, three-quarters of the way through the school year, each of them gets several weeks in which they take over all the lesson planning and teaching and receive feedback on how they've done. They've learned a lot, they say, but still have areas to work on – and they appreciate the length of time and the close mentor-resident relationship that they wouldn't get in a traditional program.
"Sometimes when you're in that moment with your kids, it's hard to see things you might be missing," says Danielle Silverman, referring to the benefits of having a mentor. She's just finished a poetry lesson with her fourth- and fifth-grade class, and it generally went well. But the feedback afterward, she says, helped her realize that she was giving directions to her students at the same time that she was posing questions and asking them to write.
In an aspect unique to Chicago's program, almost all AUSL grads end up being hired at certain "turnaround" schools that the city has given AUSL to run. These schools, among the worst performers in the city, have had their administration and most of the teaching staff replaced.