October 21, 2009
New York City has launched an experimental model of teacher training that pairs inexperienced newcomers to the city’s schools with seasoned pros.
Developed by Hunter College, New Visions for Public Schools, and the Department of Education, the Urban Teacher Residency program aims to give new teachers the skills they’ll need to manage classrooms full of high-needs students. It also coaches them along as they do. Residents spend four days a week in their classrooms and the fifth at the Hunter College School of Education, taking courses intended to make education theory practical.
Danielle Ruggiero, a mentor teacher, said she showed up at Hillcrest High School in Jamaica, Queens, six years ago, armed with a degree that taught her much about the theory of education but glossed over many of the practical concerns she faced on her first day.
“When I first started teaching, I was thrown into a class of 38 kids who were all behind in their reading skills and I was this 22-year-old,” she said. “You’ve got to get on-the-ball really quickly.”
This year, Ruggiero and resident, Stacey Toro-Morales, spend the bulk of their time co-teaching English and drama classes and taking courses on the side. They are among two dozen pairs of residents and mentor teachers who are spread out among seven schools throughout the city.
After the fourteen-month program ends, residents commit to spending four years teaching in one of the 75 high-needs public schools that New Visions supports.
Though new to New York, the program is modeled in many ways after teacher residency programs in Boston, Chicago, and Denver that have been praised as effective ways to boost a new teacher’s chances of staying in the profession for more than several years.
Critics of traditional programs run by education schools — including state education Commissioner David Steiner — say that the programs fail to prepare students for the practical aspects of what they will face once they enter the classroom. Alternative certification programs like Teach for America have also been criticized for not providing their teachers with enough support. Programs like the Urban Teacher Residency aim to be the antidote.
“We wanted to make sure that the experience was real, that there was no simulated child, no case studies that a professor put together,” said Roberta Trachtman, the director of teaching and learning programs at New Visions. At the same time, she said, they wanted to ground what residents learn in the classroom in an academic program that links educational theory to classroom practice.
Though the program is labor-intensive and expensive to operate, Trachtman and New Visions president Robert Hughes said that they think there’s room and resources for the program to expand. They hope to double the number of residents and schools involved in the next two years.
Trachtman acknowledged that this model of training will not replace large-scale routes to teacher certification, adding that educators should move past the idea of a “one size fits all” model.
“We still don’t know whether this will work,” he said.
It’s an experiment that is attracting national attention, however. The Hunter College-New Visions program is one of 28 teacher training programs awarded a total of $43 million in grants by the federal Department of Education. All except seven of the grantee programs include residencies as part of their training, and the funding is expected to draw close attention to the programs’ success at teacher retention and boosting student performance.
Hughes said that the federal interest reflected a long-standing desire among educators for better training and professional support. “If you talk to teachers, they will say that they’ve always dreamed of preparation programs like this,” he said. “This is the first effort on the part of the federal government to spur change in the industry.”