Urban Teacher Residencies (UTRs) provide teacher candidates (“Residents”) with an alternative pathway to certification in cities across the nation. Characterized by unique inter-institutional partnerships between school districts or charter management organizations, universities, and non-profit organizations, UTRs offer a clinically rich preparation experience based on the best of what we know works in teacher preparation.
Building on the medical residency model, UTRs provide Residents with both the underlying theory of effective teaching and a year-long, in-school “residency” in which they practice and hone their skills and knowledge alongside an effective teacher in an urban classroom. Residents receive stipends as they learn to teach and commit to teaching in their contexts for three or more years beyond the residency.
Residencies in the UTRU Network recruit recent college graduates, mid-career changers, and members of local communities using a multi-faceted approach that includes participation in community events and job fairs, college campus visits, social media campaigns, and partnerships with reform-minded organizations. Programs effectively attract and prepare racially and gender-diverse candidate pools, and target teachers in high need areas such as math, science, ELL, and special education. Successful programs work closely with human resources departments to project teaching vacancies and recruit candidates to fill those slots.
Residents are selected through rigorous and highly competitive processes: the average selectivity rate in the UTRU Network is 12%. One Network partner has a 1 in 20 acceptance rate, or 5%.
Many urban districts and charter management organizations (CMOs) find that a large percentage of their first-year teachers - whether they were prepared by traditional university programs or alternative “fast-track” certification programs - arrive ill-equipped for the challenges of the urban classroom and the unique needs of the students in their cities. Overwhelmed and underprepared, new teachers leave in high numbers, costing millions of dollars and perpetuating a “revolving door” of inexperienced teachers into and out of schools. Districts and CMOs are attracted to a model that prepares aspiring teachers for the urban classroom and gives them the experience and support needed to become effective teachers, who remain committed to teaching in their cities and their schools for the long haul.
While some alternative teacher certification programs are successful at attracting new teachers to the profession, they generally provide recruits with only a few weeks of preparation before entering the classroom. Teacher Residencies not only offer a full year of clinically rich preparation, but provide Residents with a unique set of knowledge, skills, and experiences needed for classroom success in the cities where they commit to teach.
Student teaching requirements for traditional programs can be as short as ten weeks and are rarely longer than a college semester. In contrast, Residents typically work in the classroom four days per week for an entire school year. In addition, Residency programs rigorously recruit, select, prepare, and coach Mentor Teachers with proven abilities to drive student learning gains in their classrooms. Through their work with the program, Mentor Teachers become skilled teacher-educators who guide the learning and development of the Residents in their classrooms.
In other routes to teaching there tends to be a divide between what students learn in their Masters coursework and what they experience in the practice of teaching. Urban Teacher Residencies actively work to bridge this gap between theory and practice by designing coursework that supports, responds to, and extends the classroom apprenticeship experience. Assignments and projects create an ongoing loop between coursework content and the classroom practice. Typically, Residencies work with course instructors who are urban educators that can adeptly make theory relevant to practice. These instructors tailor content to Residency program standards, grounding coursework in the district or CMO context and preparing residents to effectively serve the distinct need of their students.
Each urban district has its own curriculum and set of reform initiatives. Each city has its own history, communities, and dynamics. Residents who come to know the city and learn its district-specific initiatives enter their first year of teaching focused on the children, families, and teaching - not on learning the norms and initiatives of a new district.
Nationally, 15% of new teachers leave teaching within the first year, 30% within three years, and 50% within five years. In urban schools, approximately 50% leave within three years.
Nationally, 15% of new teachers leave teaching within the first year, 30% within three years, and 50% within five years. In typical urban school districts, approximately 50% of new teachers leave within three years.
In contrast, the average retention rate for UTRU network programs is 90% after three years and 85% after five years.
Studies show that many first-year teachers leave not because of insufficient salaries but because of a perceived lack of professionalism, collegiality, and administrative support in their schools. In their first few years of teaching, novices are in “survival mode,” often struggling with classroom management and spending an inordinate amount of time trying to find relevant and useful materials for their curriculum - and yet, time and again, research shows that few report receiving sufficient guidance about what to teach and how to teach it in the early years.
Contemporary learning theorists argue that adults learn best through active participation and effective professional development that combines theory with hands-on practice. Most professional preparation programs reflect this reality. For example, medical residents must practice their craft in teaching hospitals under the instruction of skilled professionals. Similarly, new teachers need a rigorous clinical element in their preparation if they are to become confident and effective professionals. But they also need ongoing support and guidance once full teachers of record in their own classrooms.
Residencies not only provide candidates with opportunities to hone their craft under the guidance of experienced teachers during the residency year, but they remain connected to program graduates once they become full teachers of record for their districts and CMOs. UTRU Network programs provide continuous support to graduates in their first three years of teaching, ranging from content area workshops to individualized coaching. The most successful programs also work with districts and CMOs to place groups of graduates in the same schools, enabling program alumni to begin teaching amongst an established community of practice.
Residencies provide excellent preparation for any aspiring teacher. However, in urban schools which tend to have a high concentration of low-income students and students of color, the stakes are higher and the challenges are greater. Thus, Urban Teacher Residencies prepare new teachers to meet the special challenges they will face in urban schools by: