11.10.2020

Teaching is Not an Entry Level Position

95% of teachers who went through teacher residency programs felt like they entered the classroom with “more effective skills than the average new teacher,” according to a report by the National Council for Teacher Residencies.

And 91% of principals agree.

“Teaching is a skills-based profession, but it’s also an art,” said Ashley Davis, a graduate of a teacher residency program and current Boston Public Schools Principal. As a principal, “I expect that [teacher residents] understand some components of teaching, like backwards planning, instructional coaching, and relationship-building." All three are areas of development that Davis says she finds herself focusing on for other new teachers.

“Teaching is a skills-based profession, but it’s also an art,”

Teacher residency programs are designed for new teachers to engage in guided experiences to determine if teaching is the right career for them. A teacher resident typically spends 1-3 years developing the competencies to be an effective teacher by participating in a combination of theory-based learning and practice-based teaching experiences with the support of master teachers.

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59% of Black boys graduate high school, according to a 2019 report by Southern Regional Education Board, which is 26% lower than the national average. In his 2012 book Visible Learning, Dr. John Hattie’s meta-analysis of education programs found that teacher effectiveness is the number one factor in student achievement, regardless of race, class, gender, or any other identifier, yet many schools allow students to be taught by inexperienced educators. That’s right. We’ve committed to a practice that we know doesn’t work for all students.

In an analysis led by Dr. Chance Lewis, by year three, 35% of Black male teachers leave the profession, which is not only a costly tradition (districts spend about $20,000 per year for every new teacher hired, according to the Learning Policy Institute), but is a disservice to students across the country. Teacher turnover is plagued with broken relationships, vacant positions, and unstable academic settings, all of which builds on the trauma that many students have already endured.

The truth about Black men in the field is even more jarring. 77% of Black men who complete education degrees are not teachers-- another alarming statistic provided by Dr. Lewis. This points to other barriers such as the lack of support receiving teaching credentials and misguided professional development. Again, we can turn to teacher residencies for the answer.

Teacher residencies are a critical component of the teacher-of-color-pipeline. Bellwether Education Partners found that over 45% of teacher residents identify as persons of color. The Massachusetts Education Equity Partnership reiterates that we must “ensure all students have mirrors and windows-- opportunities to see themselves reflected in their schools and classrooms, as well as to learn about the experiences of others." Teacher residencies help make that happen.

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The residency model is widely accepted for the medical profession, largely because of the high-risk nature of the job. We want doctors who we know have been tried and have proven their ability to care for our well-being. Teachers face the same pressures and should be held to the same standard. In our current model, where new college graduates become lead teachers, a student can theoretically have a novice teacher in every year of their education career. This is unfair to students, especially low-income and students of color, considering that “students of color in low-income schools are 3 to 10 times more likely to have unqualified teachers than students in predominantly White schools” as stated by the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education.

Much like a future med student can participate in pre-med programs in undergrad, future educators should participate in “pre-ed” programs in college. This can be a series of experiences that expose students to the profession through research, mentorship, and practice, then spend a few years working under the supervision of a master teacher. When and only when they have shown that they have the competencies to properly develop our children should they have the authority and responsibility to do so. Anyone without those proven skills can undoubtedly do more harm than good to the next generation of learners.

He is Me Institute has a unique “pre-ed” program that gives Black males the opportunity to try out teaching before making a full commitment.

Their teaching fellowship is a 12-month program for Black male college seniors to learn more about the intersections of their own identities and how they apply to the larger education landscape. Alumni of the program are supported in joining a teacher residency program from He is Me’s national portfolio of partners, then are offered career support to land their first full-time teaching role.

Teaching is not an entry level position- the stakes are too high. Every year about 1.2 million students dropout of school and 15% of students are retained. Nearly 1 million students receive disciplinary action (some reports suggest higher numbers), and Black boys are disciplined at a higher rate than their peers, beginning in preschool. Students who experience these hardships in school are much more likely to dropout, be incarcerated, and tend to have less wealth in adulthood.

It’s time we stop having people practice teaching on our kids. Like doctors, we need to be sure that our teachers are qualified to be responsible for the wellbeing of our children. One article suggests that high school dropouts are 63% more likely to be incarcerated than college graduates and are 3.5 times more likely to be arrested than high school graduates. In Mississippi, the average inmate reads at a 6th grade level. Nationally, jail owners use third grade reading achievement to predict the population of future inmates- a phenomenon that sparked various governmental responses such as Ohio’s Third Grade Reading Guarantee initiative.

While efforts like that are commendable, it’s still not enough. Let’s lean into what we know works.

When Black students have one Black teacher in elementary, they are 13% more likely to attend college, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research. They go on to say that “having two black teachers should raise attainment more than having a single black teacher.”

Considering the demographic makeup of teacher residents, and the success of residencies overall, why haven’t we made it mandatory for teachers to go through these programs? Anyone with a child would love to be assured that their child’s teacher is fully prepared to educate.

In a moment that is saturated with changes, now is the time to act. Caregivers in many states have some school choice to send their children to schools that work with residency programs. Teacher prep programs need to rethink what post-COVID teaching looks like and how to incorporate a residency-style program. Districts, too can partner with residencies or develop their own teacher training programs. Regardless of your seat, you have power to make our schools better for all kids beginning with advocating for and supporting teacher prep programs.

“Many of the effective teaching skills that I have, I think I would have gained along the way, but students that I taught early on would not have benefited from them,” Principal Davis reflected about her own experience. But teacher residency programs “intentionally put those skills in the center of teacher prep," which decreases the learning curve for teachers, and expedites their impact on student achievement.

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