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Teacher residency approach aims to produce educators who stay

(March 11, 2018 by Kristen Taketa, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, photos by Robert Cohen)

For the past two years, St. Louis Public Schools leaders have been looking for answers to this question: Why do our teachers leave?

School leaders think it’s largely because many first-year teachers are not adequately prepared.

It’s possible, for example, to be hired as a teacher in a St. Louis school without ever having walked through the school’s front doors. It’s possible to become a teacher after having spent just 12 weeks in front of a classroom, the minimum amount of student teaching that Missouri requires for new teachers.

On top of that, teachers with the least experience are the ones most likely to be placed in the most challenging schools — the ones already facing high teacher turnover and low academic performance.

“I can tell you, we lose so many people within the first quarter just on the job, like even the first 30 days on the job, because they’re not ready,” said Haliday Douglas, director of talent strategy and management for the district. “Sometimes they’re not ready in terms of skill set, sometimes in terms of mindset.”

District leaders hope to solve this problem by partnering with St. Louis Teacher Residency, an organization formed last year that will recruit, then educate, train and embed new teachers within hard-to-staff public schools. This is St. Louis’ first and only teacher residency. More than two dozen exist nationwide. The East St. Louis School District is also starting a teacher residency, in partnership with Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.

The idea of teacher residencies is to provide longer and more relevant teaching experiences than the traditional, four-year college path. The latter is sometimes criticized because students spend the vast majority of time in a college classroom learning academics and theory, rather than in a K-12 classroom learning about classroom management and instruction techniques.

“I learned as a school leader that just being a teacher day-to-day is often very different” from being a student teacher in college, said Laura Vilines, founder and executive director of the St. Louis Teacher Residency and a former leader of a charter school in Nashville, Tenn. “We need to make sure we’re giving teachers more authentic experiences in the classroom.”

More teaching time

Teacher residency candidates already have bachelor’s degrees but want to earn teaching certificates. Many are switching careers.

Not unlike a medical residency or a yearlong internship, St. Louis residency candidates spend their first year teaching four days a week under the guidance of a mentor teacher, who is also coached, vetted and paid to fill that role. Residency candidates spend the fifth day each week taking classes.

In their second year, residency candidates become full-time teachers in the district they trained in, and they may also pursue a master’s degree through Washington University.

Read the entire story on the St. Louis Post-Dispatch website.