School of Education’s teacher residency program draws national interest

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U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine made a special trip last week to a Richmond middle school to check out firsthand a Virginia Commonwealth University School of Education program in action.

The Richmond Teacher Residency program, part of the school’s Center for Teacher Leadership, is an intensive, school-based teacher-preparation training that operates similarly to a medical school’s residency program. Students admitted into the highly competitive RTR commit to a full residency year and a minimum of three years teaching within the Richmond Public Schools system. During the residency year, the students are each paired with their own Clinical Resident Coach.

Kaine, a longtime advocate of the RPS system, co-chairs the Senate Career and Technical Education (CTE) Caucus and recently introduced the bipartisan Creating Quality Technical Educators Act, which would apply the RTR model to create career and technical education partnerships nationwide.

“First, I love the Richmond Public Schools,” said Kaine, whose three children all came up in the RPS. “I’m interested in learning about [the RTR] because I think it’s a national model. I would love to be able to do work in Washington both to support this program, but also to spread the word about it so that other cities can adopt it.

“In particular, we’re very interested in career and technical education, and we think that’s a really blooming field that really begins in middle schools. And the ability to attract folks from technical careers into a residency program like this, so that they can be great CTE teachers, is something I support. We’ve actually introduced a bill to allow that to happen. It’s kind of patterned after this program but as a way to attract the next generation of career and technical educators.”

After sitting in on a class at T.C. Boushall Middle School taught by Christal Corey, one of the program’s teacher residents, the senator joined VCU President Michael Rao, Ph.D.; VCU School of Education Dean Christine S. Walther-Thomas, Ph.D.; and RPS Superintendent Dana T. Bedden, Ph.D., for a roundtable discussion with teachers and administrators from VCU and Richmond.

“This is an important program,” Kaine said. “It’s great for the School of Education. The School of Education is an innovator, VCU’s an innovator, but it’s also fantastic for RPS and especially for the kids who are RPS students.”

Drawing national interest is that the program addresses the unique challenges of preparing teachers for urban education. RPS often has a number of vacancies that the RTR helps to fill, Bedden said.

“Obviously,” he said, “given the variety of needs we have in Richmond, we need to have a nontraditional approach to bolster and strengthen our teaching program. … They’re doing a wonderful job with taking that [hospital residency] model and modifying it to fit education.”

The program, which was developed in 2010, is a great source of pride for VCU. Not only does it engage students, it gives them the opportunity to practice their craft as they are learning it. The RTR addresses the unique challenges of preparing teachers for urban education. Individuals with strong content knowledge but no prior teacher education are recruited into the program and make a four-year commitment that includes a year of residency and three years of urban school teaching. Including the intense residency year provides more training and experience than the semester-long stint of student teaching that is more typical.

It also allows them to witness how their work immediately benefits the community, Rao said.

“The Richmond Teaching Residency program is just a stunning example of what we tend to do at Virginia Commonwealth University and it’s going very, very well,” he said.

Indeed, the U.S. Department of Education awarded the VCU School of Education a $7.5 million Teacher Quality Partnership grant to continue the program and evaluate its impact on teacher retention and student achievement in critical shortage areas such as Richmond. That impact could affect the advancement of the recruitment, training and support of teachers, particularly in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

“The RTR model is really helping us create highly qualified, competent, well-supported teachers in high-need areas,” Walther-Thomas said. “We focus on all areas, but with this new grant, we’re going to be focusing on areas of STEM, special education and other high-priority areas.

“We know that we lose half of all new teachers within five years. When it comes to high-needs schools … we lose teachers faster. It’s harder to get teachers to come. … It is oftentimes in the schools where you need the best that you get the teachers with the least amount of preparation. This is a real commitment across the School of Education. All of our departments’ faculty promote this work.”

Clinical Resident Coaches participating in the roundtable discussion spoke of how challenging yet rewarding they found the program. One said that she grew cognitively, emotionally and in practice, noting that she “learned more in the last three years as a Clinical Resident Coach than I did in any other part of my experience,” while another said she grew “tremendously because of the program. I have become a much more reflective teacher as well as pushing myself to set goals.”


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