California residents

Teacher residencies have many admirers but still train few teachers. California may be about to change that.

PHOTO: Patrick Wall/Chalkbeat
Yumar Wheeler is participating in a teacher residency program at KIPP New Jersey TEAM Academy.

Sending would-be educators into schools for a year of intense, hands-on training alongside their academic coursework is a concept that’s excited a lot of people who want to improve how teachers learn to teach.

But enthusiasm for these teacher residency programs has largely outstripped their ability to expand, especially because many charge little or no tuition.

Now, the state with the most students in the country is trying to change that. California recently earmarked $75 million to create new residencies and expand existing ones — enough to jumpstart programs that face unique funding challenges. Advocates hope these programs will give teachers better training, improve their likelihood of staying in the classroom, and diversify the profession.

“The $75 million by far is the largest state investment that I can track by leaps and bounds,” said Tamara Azar of the National Center for Teacher Residencies.

California’s school districts or charter schools will be able to win the money by partnering with an existing teacher-prep program on a residency designed for prospective math, science, special education, and bilingual teachers — who are all in high demand in a state with teacher shortages.

Winning districts can’t charge prospective teachers an up-front fee, though the university partners may charge tuition. Some programs might offer living stipends to candidates, a practice promoted by the Learning Policy Institute, a California-based think tank that supports the residency model.

Teachers who go through the programs have to commit to teaching for four years in the district or school that sponsors the residency, and if they leave early they’re on the hook to pay back some of the grant funding.

Even with that kind of commitment, earning a stipend instead of paying tuition makes residencies more appealing to some would-be teachers than traditional teacher education. (Nationally, not all residencies offer stipends and some still charge tuition.) But that dynamic has left programs with big costs, and most remain relatively small.

The Learning Policy Institute counted 53 residency programs in 2016. The National Center for Teacher Residencies estimates that the 23 programs in its network have produced fewer than 3,500 graduates, including 792 last school year. For perspective, there were nearly 200,000 first-year public school teachers across the U.S. in the 2015-16 school year.

“Residencies have grown relatively slowly,” said Azar.

California expects its initiative to produce around 3,700 teachers.

Existing residency programs fund themselves in a patchwork of ways: philanthropic contributions, school districts, federal grants, state programs, and the teacher candidates themselves. Bank Street College of Education has offered other ideas for more sustainable financing, including using residents as substitute teachers or to run after-school programs.

To date, research on the residency model is limited, and there’s not clear evidence that residencies are any more effective at training teachers. In fact, a study of one highly touted program, the Boston Teacher Residency, found its graduates were less effective at raising student test scores in math than other novice teachers, though by year four in the classroom they were more effective.

There is evidence that teachers trained as residents are more likely to remain in the classroom for a number of years. Residencies are also able to recruit many more teachers of color, which is notable amid pushes to diversify the predominantly white profession.

“I think that amount of student teaching and the mentor teacher being a true expert probably has a lot to do with the retention rate being strong,” Linda Darling-Hammond, president of the Learning Policy Institute, has said. “You’re getting everything a beginning teacher should get.”

Twelve California districts have already won small grants to start planning for new or expanding residency programs.

Under the terms of California’s grant program, every dollar a program receives from the state has to be matched with another dollar from other sources. Prospective teachers will take courses in classroom management, child development, and culturally responsive teaching, among other areas, through an existing teacher prep program, likely a university. They will also student-teach at least half-time for a full school year with support from a teacher with at least three years of experience.

In Newark, the KIPP charter network runs a year-long residency for would-be teachers who take classes through Relay Graduate School of Education. Intisar Hatcher-Wright, a KIPP science teacher who has been mentoring resident Yumar Wheeler, said the approach doesn’t entirely shield people from the challenges of the classroom — but hopefully eases the transition.

“It’s been a huge learning curve for Yumar. It hasn’t been easy for him by far,” Hatcher-Wright said. “But I will say that what has been maybe different … than he might have experienced otherwise is that I was really purposeful in protecting him and making sure he could take baby steps before he takes these larger steps.”

First Person

I’m a fifth-year Chicago teacher, and the challenges aren’t letting up. Now what?

PHOTO: Getty

When I started as a teacher in Chicago Public Schools, I remember hearing that half of teachers in urban school districts leave them in their first five years. When I went through rough patches I would wonder, was I going to make it?

I did make it, completing my fifth year of teaching last spring. But I can’t help but feel like something still isn’t right.

I feel like this should be the time when I am starting to really develop my expertise, feel secure in my skills and abilities, and build the self-confidence that I am effective in my craft. Instead, I  feel lucky just to be surviving day to day and week to week.

I thought that by now I would be in a groove with planning and preparation. I thought that my Sundays might actually be relaxing. Instead, I find myself filled with the “Sunday scaries,” scrambling to get materials created, adjust lesson plans, and polish final drafts of IEPs. I never feel “caught up,” and can’t say I have ever known what that feels like.

Even though my class sizes are not the largest in the district, they are filled with students who — although so talented, resilient, and special — have such a wide variety of needs and deficits that I don’t feel I can adequately address given all of the constraints I face. There simply are not enough resources and time to do everything I need to do to give my students the best that they deserve. This weighs on me, leading to overwhelming feelings of guilt and helplessness that are often paralyzing.

In short, I am mentally and emotionally exhausted, and I know many of my fellow teachers are too.

I’ve been thinking about this reality more since I joined a number of colleagues at an educator mental health-focused event in October. We dug into our own struggles and and then worked on ways to manage our stress. We named our biggest day-to-day stressors and then explored different ways to practice self-care — such as journaling, meditation, or picking up an instrument — to balance out the feelings of high anxiety and pressure we feel at work. I left with a number of resources to seek out on my own as well as a sense of renewal. But the onus was on me to find solutions moving forward.

Now, Chicago’s mayoral race is heating up. And while I work on managing the stress of this job, it’s also on policymakers — including our next mayor — to address the stressors themselves.

Large class sizes, the limited time we are allotted to plan and prepare for the school day, insufficient paid time-off policies, and ever-tighter budgets we are asked to stretch to meet our students’ needs are all the result of policies that could be changed.

I can’t practice enough self-care to replace the structural changes needed to make our profession more sustainable.

But school leaders, the mayor, and state policymakers, could make a difference. More independent and collaboration time in teachers’ days would help give us time to chip away at expanding to-do lists. Real teacher-leader roles would give teachers power and voice in school decisions. Schools destigmatizing “mental health” days and organizing activities to help teachers de-stress would help, too.

Dissenters may point to the fact that in many other jobs you’re expected to manage your work-life balance and handle stress on your own. But teaching isn’t like every other job: the stakes are especially high, and we have less control of our time and are more isolated in our work. Students benefit from teachers with experience, and every time a capable teacher leaves Chicago’s schools because they were overwhelmed, students lose out.

For my part, I pledge to be aware of my mental health needs and plan to be intentional about my self-care this school year. I hope Chicago Public Schools, the Chicago Teachers Union, and our city and state elected leaders will commit to helping me and my colleagues not only to survive, but to thrive in our jobs.

As mayoral candidates continue to flesh out their education plans, they need to acknowledge that our mental health and well-being is critical to our success as teacher. How are they planning to help us access resources like counseling services? Prioritizing how to best care for educators will help us continue to provide the best care possible for students.

Teachers are already doing exceptional work given the many constraints they face. Imagine what more we could do for our students if we were better equipped ourselves.

Dayna Heller is a special education teacher at Roger C. Sullivan High School in Rogers Park. She is an active member of the Chicago Teachers Union and Educators for Excellence, a national teacher-led policy organization.

tick tock

Denver district, teachers union make some progress as contract deadline looms, but still far apart

PHOTO: Erica Meltzer/Chalkbeat
Denver teachers listen to an update on bargaining during the second to last day of negotiations before the ProComp contract expires.

Something unusual happened near the end of bargaining Thursday between the Denver teachers union and school administrators: The district offered a change to its proposal, and some teachers gathered in the audience snapped their fingers in approval.

The two sides are still far apart in terms of reaching an agreement on Denver Public Schools’ ProComp system, which offers teachers bonuses on top of their base salary for things like teaching in a high-poverty school or earning a strong evaluation. The deadline for a deal is Friday, with teachers set to vote on either strike or ratification Saturday and Tuesday. The district’s and the union’s proposals still reflect different ideas about how teachers should earn more compensation — and have very different price tags.

But Thursday’s session was a far cry from the intense frustration that marked Tuesday’s bargaining session. On that day, district officials departed the bargaining table to “process” after the union refused to make a counteroffer to the most recent district proposal. Teachers filled the room after school and waited in hot, cramped conditions for a response that never came.

Thursday’s session opened with tense verbal sparring, but by the afternoon, the union had made changes to its proposal that reduced the cost by an estimated $2.5 million. District officials said they would spend the night and early Friday morning analyzing the proposal and seeing where else they might be able to move.

The district did offer a small concession Thursday that some teachers seemed to appreciate: increasing tuition reimbursement 50 percent, to $6,000. Denver Superintendent Susana Cordova said research shows this type of incentive is a strong tool for recruiting and keeping teachers, especially teachers of color. The money for this will come from reducing the bonus that teachers get for teaching in a so-called “distinguished” school.

More often, Denver teachers have reacted with boos to offers that the district saw as significant steps toward the union position.

Beyond small steps like the tuition reimbursement, Cordova said she was “very open to considering” aspects of the union proposal, a sentiment that seemed to clear the way for more back-and-forth.

“The district has moved and DCTA was willing to change their proposal,” said Tiffany Choi, a French teacher at East High School who attended the bargaining session. “We both showed willingness to compromise, and that’s positive.”

Dana Berge, a member of the union bargaining team, said the district is “beginning to listen to us, but they are not listening to us in terms of the values in our proposal.”

Both proposals keep some bonuses, at much more modest levels, and put more money into base pay. And both proposals lay out a schedule for how Denver teachers can earn more money, both by “steps,” or number of years of service, and by “lanes,” or additional educational achievement.

The union proposal has more lanes and allows Denver teachers to start moving up by earning additional college credit or by taking the kind of professional development that teachers need to do anyway. Teachers take such training to maintain their teaching licenses — or because they see a need, for example, to learn more about helping students with trauma. The union’s counteroffer Thursday removed one of the lanes, bringing down the total cost.

The district’s first lane change comes with a master’s degree, completing 10 years of service, earning an advanced license, or earning national board certification.

Berge said the union proposal more closely mimics those in other districts and will keep “highly dedicated, highly trained, highly experienced teachers” in Denver and reduce the problem of losing more experienced teachers to better-off suburban districts while less experienced teachers concentrate in the highest-needs schools.

She argued that a more stable salary structure would do more to keep teachers in high-poverty schools than the bonuses given under the current system.

The union proposal will cost a lot more than the district proposal. Cordova said the district is in the process of identifying “deep, deep cuts” to administrative positions to redirect money to classrooms, but even those won’t provide all the money needed to close the gap between the two sides.

During the long period in which each side was working separately on its proposals, a group of religious and community leaders from the Industrial Areas Foundation arrived to offer support to teachers and then a direct message to Cordova. They criticized her for framing the disagreement as one about values.

“Please don’t dare insinuate that you care more about the children in hard-to-serve, high-poverty schools than we do,” said Susan Cooper, a retired teacher and member of the organization. “We value solidarity, not a divide and conquer approach. We value stability, which we don’t have because we can’t keep teachers in Denver.”

Billy Williams of the Denver chapter of the NAACP said parents and community members would support the teachers “if they are forced to strike.”

Cordova said it was never her intent to suggest one side held the moral high ground.

“We can have similar goals, similar values, and different ideas about how to get those done,” she said. “Good people can disagree and still care about our kids.”

The two sides expect to resume bargaining at 10 a.m. Friday.