Teacher Residency Programs May Have Benefits for Higher Ed and K-12

Recently awarded an $8.2M grant from the U.S. Department of Education, the University of Denver’s teacher residency program in conjunction with Denver Public Schools is part of a national trend of preparing teachers through observing, practicing, and learning about education every day. Graduate students in the Denver Teacher Residency spend four days a week in a classroom with a mentor teacher, training to teach while education unfolds before them, and one day in intensive courses and seminar synthesizing what they’re learning. We discuss the inception of this program, how it works, and how it benefits the University of Denver with Thalia Nawi, Denver Teacher Residency program coordinator.

The Denver Teacher Residency (DTR) began in 2007 with a $3M, three-year commitment from Janus Capital Group to improve teacher training, recruitment, and training in Denver Public Schools (DPS). This resulted in the Janus Education Alliance, and in 2009 the launch of the residency program. Teacher residency programs exist in other parts of the U.S., including Boston and Chicago, but DPS’ program stands out because it was not created by an outside nonprofit organization coming in to work with the school district — rather it was created by the school district.

Nawi explains that when DPS decided to do a residency program, they considered very few universities in the Denver area. “The University of Denver really stood out as a partner because they were already doing work with the Boettcher Teachers Program for several years, so DU had a degree of flexibility and already had knowledge and interest in what an urban teacher residency program might look like.” Curriculum for the program was designed from the ground up with DU. The flexibility to craft their own courses has made this a good partnership, she says.

Students in the residency program are at their host school site training every day of the week but Thursday, where they take their courses and seminars. They’re in a full-time Master’s program and a full-time job.

Modeled like a medical residency, the program surrounds students in education. “It’s like they’re student teachers on steroids,” explains Nawi, “because it’s loner, it’s deeper, and it’s much more intense.” These students observe, practice and learn how tot teach without being the official classroom teacher. But, as their cohort progresses, “these guys really look like co-teachers,” she adds.

DTR started recruiting in January of 2009. “We opened our doors with a first cohort in July of 2009, so we’re partway through training our second cohort,” Nawi says. “We now have 30 people in the program… We’ll grow every year. We try and use this year to prepare people, but it’s also a good way to select who will be the best fit for serving kids in our schools.”

DU partners with two residency programs — the Denver Teacher Residency and the Boettcher Teachers Program, which is one of the founding teacher residencies and has been around for about six years. For DU, the advantage of these programs is its ability to have first-hand knowledge and understanding of what someone teaching in public schools now really needs. They can see what is happening in the field and apply it to their own teaching program.

Whether teacher residency programs become a larger trend in higher education relies on two variables: funding and effectiveness.

“During the residency year, we pay the residents a stipend, we pay their mentor teacher a stipend, and we commit to tuition reimbursement [if they make a five-year commitment to teaching after graduation],” Nawi explains. Having the funding to support such a program plays a big role in the sustainability of residency programs.

DTR was brought on board to close the achievement gap and accelerate student academics. If graduates of the program are more effective than traditionally trained teachers, more schools will look towards these programs.

While results are still in the making, Nawi hopes to see effects from the program in recruitment, retention, and academic achievement in both students and residents.

For more information on the Denver Teacher Residency program, visit their Website. You can also learn more at the University of Denver’s site. Urban Teacher Residency United — UTRU — a national consortium based in Chicago, also helped make this program possible for offering DTR a blueprint for how it’s done.