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Richmond program offers medical-style residency program for new teachers.

By Tom Allen

When Ausha Espiet faced her first classroom of seventh-graders at Richmond’s Thompson Middle School last fall, it was a much less intimidating experience than it was for many of her fellow first-year teachers. Thanks to her experience in the Richmond Teacher Residency (RTR) program, she entered that classroom bolstered by a full year of mentoring and co-teaching with a master teacher.
 
“RTR really helped me to come into the school system prepared for the challenges I would face,” says Espiet, a Richmond Education Association member. “I’d had a chance to develop an understanding of the student population I’d be teaching and I’d learned a lot about the dynamics of a middle school classroom.”

 RTR is based at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), and its medical-style residency approach differs from more traditional teacher preparation programs in several ways:

• RTR recruits high-achieving bachelor degree holders with the aim of preparing them for a teaching position in a Richmond secondary school.

• RTR targets high-functioning schools and master teachers to work with its residents.

• Residents tackle a non-traditional curriculum, taught across disciplines and focusing on theory and practice in effective urban education.

• Residents spend a year co-teaching in Richmond Public Schools, guided by both VCU faculty and RPS master teachers trained to mentor them.

• When residents complete the program, they commit to teaching in Richmond for three years, during which they receive ongoing support and professional development opportunities.


RTR intends to make a significant impact in Richmond and program staff members believe its model would work well in any urban area. “Urban schools often struggle with high attrition rates among teachers,” says Therese A. Dozier, RTR’s director. “Because of that, students in many urban areas get shortchanged by having poorly-prepared, unlicensed or inexperienced teachers. Both students and their cities deserve better.”
 
Dozier, a former National Teacher of the Year, knows of what she speaks: Early in her career, she was one of those teachers. “I was hired to teach math in inner-city Miami, even though I wasn’t qualified to do so. I was certified in social studies,” she says. “If my students didn’t understand how to do the math problems the first way I explained it, my only ‘alternative’ strategies were  to speak louder or more slowly. I had the heart for teaching urban students but not the expertise.”
 
While expertise is definitely a prerequisite, content knowledge alone is not enough to meet the challenges in an urban setting. In Richmond Public Schools, three-quarters of the division’s nearly 25,000 students are eligible for free and reduced lunch programs. Just over one-third live in households that are 100 percent below the federal poverty level. More than half of parents in the city are single parents, and the median income for RPS families is less than 60 percent of the average in the greater Richmond area. Adding to the challenge is the fact that the city’s public school budget was cut by almost $30 million in 2012.
 
Dozier knows how that can play out in the classroom. “Teaching in any poor, urban area comes with a daunting set of obstacles,” she says, “and Richmond is no different. We know how important teacher quality is to student success, so RTR is all about putting excellent teachers in the city’s schools.”
 
To help accomplish that goal, RTR offers participants, along with the year-long residency, a master’s degree from VCU at a reduced rate; specific training in urban education and cultural competencies; a stipend; support for National Board Certification candidacy; and a Virginia teaching license. In addition, participants live together in an historic downtown building where a portion of the apartments are set aside for them.
 
Espiet found the living arrangement to be a great plus for the program. “Because we all lived close and were taking the same classes, we would get together often,” she says. “We were all very new at this and when things didn’t always work out the way we’d planned, we were able to problem-solve and develop a real sense of teamwork.”
 
RTR is a partnership between Richmond Public Schools, VCU, and the Center for Teaching Leadership at the VCU School of Education. The program launches two groups of residents each year, and the deadline for applying to be part of the next group is February 11, 2013.To learn more, visit http://richmondteacherresidency.vcu.edu/.
 
Allen is the editor of the Virginia Journal of Education


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What Makes for Quality
Teacher Education?

The Richmond Teacher Residency program has some features that seem very much in line with the way reform in teacher preparation programs is moving. Two years ago, a research group convened by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) issued recommendations for teacher education. Here are some of them:

• There must be an intense focus on developing teaching practice…making clinical practice the centerpiece of the curriculum and interweaving opportunities for teaching experience with academic content and professional courses.

• Schools' staffing models must shift… supervision of student teachers in schools is typically assigned to a teacher as extra work, usually with no training, support or changes in schedule. Schools need to adopt a new staffing model patterned after medical preparation, in which teachers, mentors and coaches, and teacher interns and residents work together as part of teams.

• Higher education and school districts must share accountability and responsibility with PreK-12 schools playing a more significant role in designing preparation programs, selecting candidates, assessing candidate performance and progress, and placing them in clinical experiences.

To learn more about the “Blue Ribbon Panel on Clinical Preparation and Partnerships for Improved Student Learning,” visit www.ncate.org.

 


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