There is an awkwardly located pothole in the road that leads students from their professional education in college to a successful teaching career. The budding teacher has sailed through the content courses, the education specific classes like ed. psych, the instructional methods and clinical experience, but nothing has prepared the new teacher for the first year in a classroom.
As Goodman (2012) reports, the literature on first-year teachers has been very consistent about the problems they face.
First, teachers with three or fewer years of experience are challenged by the difficulties of managing student behavior.
The next challenge is curricular. The teacher knows her subject but she has little guidance about what parts of the subject should be taught to her students. Almost half (41%) of Teach for America teachers reported that neither the district nor their school provided useful instructional resources like lesson plans. Case studies of new teachers show them spending many hours trying to "come up with enough curriculum" and then struggling with how to teach it all the while juggling all the other duties, including paperwork, committees, after school clubs and so forth. (Goodman, 2012)
The "sink-or-swim" challenges of classroom behavior and the mystery of curriculum are exacerbated by a professional of catch-22: in order to become accepted the new teacher must demonstrate that she is good at precisely those things she has the most difficulty with--managing her classroom and successful instruction!
So new teachers report "difficult interactions with colleagues, from neglect by administrators to lack of cooperation or even hostility from veteran teachers." (Goodman, 2012)
The new teacher's struggles are often a disaster for his or her students who are likely to do more poorly than their peers being taught by more experienced teachers.
Teaching is a profession which means that solutions to the dilemma of inexperienced teachers must be professional solutions that give the neophyte professional experiences. The accomplished physician, lawyer, or teacher has, in addition to content knowledge about medicine, law, or pedagogy, what Lee Shulman called "the wisdom of practice."
How do professionals acquire the wisdom of practice? New teachers often respond to the challenges posed by their inexperience by developing survival rather than professional skills. A lecture appears to be a better approach to instruction than a project with its potential for losing control of the classroom.
A way to prepare the new teacher so that developing professional skills rather than survival skills has been found in the adaptation of one developed in medical education, the residency. In the early 20th century, medical education was revived when medical schools affiliated themselves with hospitals and added a multi-year residency in which the newly graduated physician treated patients under the guidance of accomplished physicians who were both medical school faculty as well as being on the staff of the hospital.
An historian of medical educaiton observed that the educational power of the residency lay in "...the quality of the house officers and faculty, the characteristics of the teaching, giving residents the opportunity to assume responsibility in patient management, the availability of time to reflect and wonder, the opportunity for residents to establish meaningful personal relationships with faculty, patients, and each other, the provision of manageable patient loads, freeing residents from too many extraneous chores, holding high expectations of residents, and conducting residency training in an atmosphere of professional excitement." (Bank Street, 2016)
In fact, the year-long teacher residency is not something new. Programs already exist in which teacher training programs and school districts and schools are providing new teachers with year-long residencies.
The Louisiana Department of Education has devoted 2% of its budget to support the Believe and Prepare partnerships "to create stronger clinical preparation experiences." According to the report, 60% of Louisiana school districts and 80% of preparation providers have voluntarily partnered in order for "aspiring teachers to work with skilled mentors before they can earn an initial teaching certificate." (Bank Street, 2016)
U.S. Prep, a program developed at Texas Tech has impressive results with a 90% job retention rate of the teachers who have gone through the program.
According to Karen Demoss, the programs like U.S. Prep are important because they help bridge the chasm fro the young teacher. Working in a supportive environment with an accomplished teacher gives the neophyte educator the chance for a successful initial year, for both teachers and, even more importantly, for their students. "Students in classrooms with residents have been documented to make larger learning gains than those in other classrooms, with strongest benefits going to those with the most need. Residency graduates are also more effective teachers. Rigorous studies have documented how their students outperform peers." (Demoss, 2016)
The report "For the Public Good" both describes exemplary teacher residencies and also provides ideas about how to fund such programs.
"For the Public Good" makes the case that if one examines the various funding streams available to states and their districts, it is possible to create a priority list with the year-long teacher residency high on the list given its importance for both beginning teachers andd the students they will teach during a long career.
There are funds built-in to the current system to remedy problems that result from inadequate teacher preparation that could be reinvested to support residencies. Teacher turnover costs school districts about $2.2 billion per year. There are also the costs that result from students who have experienced an ineffective teacher, such as costs for remedial summer school, tutoring, or students dropping out of school altogether.
Districts can be thoughtful. For example, a district might use a portion of the current budget for substitute teachers to hire a promising new graduate who would work four days a week co-teaching with an accomplished veteran leaving one day free when the resident teacher could serve as a substitute where needed.
As the state level Every Student Succeeds Act makes it possible to dedicate up to 5% of its Title II part A (professional development) funds to create competitive grants to colleges of education and public school districts to create model residency programs.
Teacher residency may appear to be an expensive luxury; failure to fully prepare teachers makes the luxury into a necessity.
Demoss, Karen (2016). Five reasons teacher residencies often outperform traditional training. The Hechinger Report.
Goodwin, Bryan (2012). Research Says/ New Teachers Face Three Common Challenges. Educational Leadership May 2012 (69:8) Supporting Beginning Teachers Pages 84-85.
The Bank Street College of Education (2016). For the Public Good: Quality Preparation for Every Teacher.
Dr. John Holton
Dr. John Holton joined the S²TEM Centers SC in July of 2013, as a research associate with an emphasis on the STEM literature including state and local STEM plans from around the nation.