Teacher Residency Programs: A Clinical Way to Prepare Educators

Mentor teacher coaches two resident teachers.

The best attorneys enter the profession through full-time clerkships; doctors enter the profession through full-time internships and residencies; and increasing numbers of teachers enter the profession through full-time teacher residencies.

Just like medical residents learn across different settings and different classes, resident teachers learn classroom skills from a mentor teacher across different situations.

The issue of teacher preparation and quality – and ways to redefine it when high-needs schools have trouble attracting and retaining teachers – is a key focus of discussion among lawmakers, education organizations, foundations, and others. Each month brings new reports, webinars, and sometimes legislation.

What Is a Teacher Residency?

Teacher residency programs typically are an alternative pathway to teaching for prospective educators who already have a bachelor’s degree. In the teacher residency model, teachers-to-be integrate master’s-level education content with a yearlong classroom internship in a public school. Unlike other alternative teaching certification models, residents do not serve as the teacher of record in the classroom.

Resident teacher programs typically share similar characteristics:

  • Attract smart, capable individuals who have content knowledge in the discipline
  • Occur in high-needs public schools that typically struggle to staff and retain teachers
  • Encompass the whole school year
  • Tie classwork to experience in the classroom
  • Allow interns opportunities to develop the craft of teaching as they address the challenges students face
  • Include structured feedback and coaching
  • Provide opportunities to take on increased teaching responsibilities under the guidance of an experienced classroom teacher, eventually serving as lead teacher, roughly similar to a student teaching practicum

A few residency programs, notably in New York, Boston, Chicago, and Denver, have been operating for more than two decades. The majority of teacher residency programs began after Congress created a grants program as part of the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008. Since 2009, the U.S. Department of Education has awarded 64 Teacher Quality Grants to establish or expand resident programs.

In 2014, the National Education Association formally recommended that traditional teacher preparation for undergraduates pursuing a bachelor’s degree incorporate many resident teacher program principles.

How Are Teachers Prepared?

Thirty percent of the 26,589 teacher preparation programs in 2014 were classified as alternative, according to the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Postsecondary Education, Higher Education Act Title II Reporting System.

  • Alternative teaching programs at colleges and universities: 20%
  • Alternative teaching programs at organizations other than colleges and universities: 10%
  • Traditional teaching preparation programs at colleges and universities: 70%

Three states – Ohio, North Dakota, and Wyoming – do not have approved alternative routes to a teaching credential.

Traditional teacher preparation programs are typically four-year undergraduate or one- to two-year graduate programs housed in a school of education. Most candidates must complete 100 hours of supervised clinical requirements.

Alternative certification programs run the gamut from emergency certification to programs run by higher education institutions to programs run by not-for-profit or for-profit organizations. Students accept a provisional position in a school while taking course work.

What Are the Historical Challenges to Alternative Programs?

New Jersey established the first alternate route to certification in 1983 by eliminating theory courses from training and using experienced teachers to mentor well-educated college graduates for their first years in the classroom. California and Texas soon followed.

The education establishment, including teacher unions, opposed initial state proposals for alternative certification, saying these programs would diminish the professionalism of teaching as a skilled vocation. Later, though, many schools of education embraced alternative teacher preparation programs by pairing classroom teaching with night or weekend course work.

Yet some of the criticisms of alternative teaching programs linger:

  • Programs are not selective and do not look for exceptional academic performance. Often-cited exceptions are Teach for America and The New Teacher Project.
  • Emergency certification is granted to people who have no formal preparation and sometimes no college degree. This perception is a legacy from the 1970s teacher shortages, and requirements in the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act largely eliminated this situation.
  • State requirements hinder programs from selecting candidates with a variety of backgrounds, requiring an explicit major in a discipline rather than a subject-matter test and relevant experience. An example is an engineer who wants to teach math.
  • Alternative programs often resemble traditional programs and do not eliminate courses that are not immediately essential to the new teacher.
  • Programs require career changers or recent college graduates to quit their jobs so they can practice teaching without pay.
  • Programs do not provide adequate training and support before new teachers walk into a classroom, and lack constructive feedback during the semester.
  • Fieldwork is not structured to be of value. A National Council on Teacher Quality report mentioned attending a football game as a permitted example of interactive field experience.
  • The length of clinical practice before entering a classroom is too short, ranging from a few days to seven weeks. The length of co-teaching is too short or not well defined.
  • Supervisors do not observe novice teachers enough, with some candidates having a single observation, and the majority receiving three or four.
  • Districts do not require the mentor, or supervising, teacher to be an effective instructor, as measured by student learning.

Teacher residency programs, though, with their internship and strong mentoring component, are designed to avoid many of the criticisms of alternative certification programs.

In a November 2014 white paper, “Why Clinical Experience and Mentoring Are Replacing Student Teaching on the Best Campuses,” James W. Fraser and Audra M. Watson reviewed different approaches to teachers’ clinical preparation. Among the characteristics of the notable programs:

  • They integrate course work with clinical time so novice teachers can make connections between practice and theory.
  • They last one full school year so novice teachers can observe how master teachers set classroom expectations and handle seasonal distractions.
  • The learning demonstrated by the students of the resident teachers measures the program’s effectiveness.
  • Novice teachers move gradually into the profession, learning from an experienced mentor before becoming a teacher of record.

High-needs schools benefit from teacher preparation that also takes into account robust community engagement and opportunities to spend time in informal neighborhood settings, according to Fraser, a professor of history and education and chair of the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences in the Professions at NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development; and Watson, director of Mentoring & Induction and program officer at the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation.

Are Teacher Residency Programs Effective?

Teacher residency programs are relatively new, and few studies exist on the effectiveness of these programs compared to nonresidency teacher preparation. Still, early evidence is encouraging on how well resident teacher programs prepare new teachers, retain teachers after critical three- and five-year markers, and positively affect students and schools.

The National Center for Teacher Residences (NCTR; formerly Urban Teacher Residency United) reports principals rated novice teachers from Aspire Public School’s Teacher Residency Program as more effective than nonresidency novice teachers. Aspire Public Schools are charter schools in California and Memphis, Tennessee. Of the Aspire graduates, 44 percent were rated as “highly effective” compared with only 6 percent of the nonresidency teachers.

And while improved performance for residency teachers may not develop during the first year of teaching, it does make a difference in the teacher’s continued development. Researchers from Brown and Harvard universities found graduates of the Boston Teacher Residency were less effective than other teachers in teaching mathematics during their first year, but by the fourth and fifth years, the residency teachers outperformed those same teachers.

The study also found Boston Teacher Residency graduates were more racially diverse, more likely to teach math and science, and more likely to remain teaching in the district beyond their fifth year.

How Do We Measure the Effectiveness of Teacher Residency Programs?

Teacher residency programs are complex and multifaceted, so the measurement of a program’s effectiveness is not simple. The NCTR research report measures the effectiveness of residency teachers in a number of variables:

  • Comparing student performance in classes taught by residency graduates versus nonresidency teachers
  • District and state evaluations of teacher effectiveness
  • Perception surveys of effectiveness related to the impact on students, schools, and the community
  • The number of residency graduates who take on leadership roles
  • Mentor’s performance evaluations
  • State student perception surveys

Student performance is measured by standardized test scores, grades, and the student’s academic progress. Teacher performance is assessed through classroom observations, performance tasks, professionalism indicators, and student perception surveys.

The residency teacher program’s positive impact on the school is measured by the diversity of the resident teachers’ socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds, the number of high-needs subject areas they serve, and the rate of teacher retention. High-needs areas include math, science, bilingual education, teaching English language learners, and special education.

Measuring Teacher Preparation

Intuitively, better-prepared teachers seem more likely to succeed, and a Pygmalion effect also takes place. Teachers who believe they’re more capable are more likely to perform better.

According to education policy analyst Craig D. Jerald, teachers who have a higher sense of competence “exhibit greater levels of planning and organization, are more open to new ideas and willing to experiment with new methods, are more persistent and resilient and less critical of students when they make errors, and are less inclined to refer a difficult student to special education.”

A 2014 U.S. Department of Education study found novice residency program teachers felt more prepared in seven of eight teaching activities than nonresidency novice teachers in the same district.

Activities TRP teachers Non-TRP teachers
Creating lesson plans 86% 74%
Teaching the subject matter 73% 74%
Using a variety of instructional methods 71% 53%
Assessing students 70% 49%
Using technology in classroom instruction 65% 61%
Interacting with parents 64% 54%
Selecting and adapting curriculum and instructional materials 64% 49%
Classroom management 57% 40%

Only in the area of teaching the subject matter did the nonresidency teachers score higher in feeling more prepared. One pronounced difference: In handling discipline and managing the classroom, 57 percent of residency teachers felt prepared in this area versus 40 percent for nonresidency teachers.

Measuring Teacher Attrition

Early results show teacher residency programs create lower teacher attrition rates, even in urban schools. In an NCTR study of 19 residencies in 14 cities across the United States, the three-year attrition rate for teachers was 16 percent (versus the national average of 33 percent), and the five-year attrition rate was 29 percent (versus the national average of 50 percent).

And residency teachers tend to stay within the same school districts. A 2015 report by the National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance found 82 percent of teacher residency program graduates remained in the same school district from spring 2012 to fall 2013, compared with 72 percent of teachers from traditional programs.

With less-experienced teachers, the difference was more pronounced. During the same time period, 81 percent of the teacher residency program graduates remained compared to 66 percent of nonresidency graduates.

Measuring Contributions to the School

Residency graduates were more prepared than typical new teachers, school principals reported in the NCTR study. Of the principals, 89 percent said residency graduates positively affect the culture of the school, are more effective than teachers from other preparation pathways, and they would recommend hiring a residency graduate to their colleagues.

Mentors also benefit from the relationship with residency teachers. Of the mentors in the 2012-2013 NCTR study, 92 percent reported being a mentor made them a more effective teacher. Mentors receive coaching from residency program staff, learn from other mentors, and receive additional professional development. Mentors also reported learning how to be more effective while listening to program staff teach the new teachers, and while explaining their teaching strategies to the mentees.

In the NCTR study, Lindsay Fena, a second-grade teacher with Aspire, explained the benefits of mentoring, saying being a mentor helped her plan better, stay more organized, and improved her teaching methods. Mentoring “made me really think about my teaching, because I had to explain why I’m doing certain things,” Fena said.

And that benefit bodes well not just for the novice teacher, but for student learning, too.


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Visit the EMAT program page to explore our innovative teacher preparation model.


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