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School of Education

CAS, CEHD host campus conference on teacher residency programs in Delaware

“Teaching is a marathon.” 

This is how Celeste Bunting, director of personnel for the Indian River School District in Sussex County and a University of Delaware graduate, described the work of educators teaching children in preschool through 12th grade (P-12). As with running, the job can be grueling and thankless. And, as with running, participants risk hitting the proverbial wall. Preparation and passion notwithstanding, burnout is an all-too common reality. The problem has been exacerbated in recent years, thanks to a national teacher shortage.

But hope may be on the horizon.

On Feb. 18, UD hosted an all-day conference exploring one potential solution to these shortages: teacher residency programs (TRP). A relatively new clinical training system for educators, TRPs provide future teachers with valuable hands-on experience while offering schools a pipeline of incoming instructors.

“I am so proud to be working with school districts across the state to help crack the difficult problem of teacher labor markets in 2020,” said Gary Henry, dean of UD’s College of Education and Human Development. “People just don’t understand how difficult it is, in this day and age, compared to when most of us were in school. And I think we’ve got a lot of good work going on.”

The conference, which was planned over a three-month period, began with breakfast in UD’s Clayton Hall, during which more than 50 P-12 educators, administrators and stakeholders from across the state were able to network and, in some cases, commiserate.

“Since we have positions that are unfilled, we have teachers giving up their planning periods to cover those classes,” said Susan Harrison, supervisor of instruction for the Seaford School District in Sussex County. “So now they can’t prepare for instruction. This creates a layer of extra work and tension for people who already have a pretty stressful job.”

Others discussed out-of-the-box plans to mitigate these stressors, including recruiting teachers from overseas, expanding online learning options or, when all else fails, cutting entire courses from the curriculum.

“We no longer have a middle school Spanish program, because we just can’t find a teacher,” said Jason Peel, director of human resources and school climate at the Milford School District in Kent and Sussex Counties. “They get killed their first year, barely hang on, and don’t stay.”

But, according to Amy Trauth, senior associate director at UD’s Professional Development Center for Educators, there may be another way: a revamp of the traditional teacher-training system.

“Our existing model is not always effective for helping future educators understand context,” said Trauth, who serves as associate director of secondary science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education in UD’s College of Arts and Sciences. She co-organized the conference along with Krissy Najera, director of UD’s Center for Teacher Education, and Chrystalla Mouza, director of UD’s School of Education. “My biggest hope is that people will leave here seeing a viable pathway to change, and that they’ll see how committed UD is to doing our part.”

Enter teacher residencies, which have been popping up around the United States since 2001. Unlike the traditional student-teacher model, in which unpaid education majors receive hands-on classroom experience only during one semester of their college careers, TRPs allow future educators a full year in the teaching trenches — from the first bell to the last. During this time, they receive a stipend, making the career path a more feasible option, and they are guided by a veteran teacher mentor. At the end of the training, and upon college graduation, the residents commit to staying within their district — or at least within the state — for around three years, depending on the TRP. (Some TRPs are set up for people who previously graduated from college with a degree in a different field and want to switch to teaching.)

While some residency programs already operate in Delaware, a recent $1 million grant from the state Department of Education will allow for expansion. At UD, where residency options already exist for early childhood education majors and those interested in Montessori education, plans are underway to partner with four area districts on an elementary education TRP and, eventually, a secondary education TRP. Proponents say these year-long immersion programs aren’t just practical, they are necessary.

“If you want to become a surgeon, you are there for the whole surgery,” UD graduate Joe Gleason said during a “voices from the field” panel discussion. He is a fifth-grade teacher at New Castle Elementary School, where he serves as a mentor through the Relay Graduate School of Education. “You’re not just there for the middle part of the surgery — you need to be there for everything. The same applies here. Students who go through this program are better prepared.”

The former residents on the panel agreed.

“I knew I wanted to be in the classroom beginning on day one,” said Shanice Allen, Gleason’s resident. “This affords me the time necessary to build relationships with students that are based on mutual respect.”

Seasoned instructors also benefit from the experience, receiving a stipend and some less tangible perks.

“I love the ideas my residents bring to the table,” said Sherri Brooks, a veteran teacher who mentored in a TRP. “I love gaining a fresh perspective. It keeps my passion alive, and it renews my sense of purpose.”

Another potential benefit of residency programming, according to keynote speaker and Mathematica researcher Allison McKie, is increasing the diversity of teacher candidates. Only 17% of Delaware instructors identify as people of color, while 56% of students do. A more inclusive pool, studies shows, can positively impact student performance.

But how does an institute of higher learning go about making a TRP work? Throughout the conference, featured panelists from established programs offered effective strategies.

“We want our residents to see themselves as members of the team,” said Christine Eisenhauer, senior dean of Relay Delaware. “They are invited to professional development, their names are outside their classroom doors, and they get an email address. These may seem like really small things, but they are important in ensuring that residents feel a part of the school community.”

Others offered advice on establishing TRP collaborations between institutes of higher learning. This type of successful partnership exists between the School District of Philadelphia (SDP), Drexel, Temple and the University of Pennsylvania.

“Shared vision is where we start,” said Channel Bates, director of strategy and operations for the SDP. “In order for us all to stay on the same page and solve problems, we facilitate biweekly or weekly calls to ensure consistency of experience across the different programs.”

At the end of the day, conference attendees formed small groups to discuss next steps for scaling up such programming in Delaware and keeping it sustainable. Educators in the room voiced their questions, concerns and recommendations — all feedback that will inform UD’s planning.

“So many education majors expect a Pinterest classroom and well-behaved students who will listen to everything they say,” said Gina Castelli, independent education consultant and adjunct professor at UD. “The expectation doesn’t always match the reality. But this job is only going to be fulfilling for them if they can sit down and say: ‘I know what I am getting myself into.’ I feel hopeful that teacher residencies will help them find their niche.”

But will these programs also help keep P-12 teachers in Delaware from hitting that metaphoric wall?

“I think so, yes,” said Bunting. “It is very exciting. And the bottom line? This will be good for the kids.”

Article by Diane

Photo by Evan Krape

Read this article on UDaily.