The Treasure Hunter

A blog by Joanne Yatvin

Are Teacher Residents Better than Student Teachers?

on July 12, 2016

A few days ago the New York Times published an Op-Ed titled “Train Teachers Like Doctors.” Since I wasn’t sure what that title meant and was somewhat concerned about it, I read that piece before anything else in the newspaper. Today, I will summarize and quote from the piece, then comment on its suggestions from my own experience.

The Times Op-Ed, written by three officials at the Bank Street College of Education, dealt mainly with the problems of getting and retaining good teachers today. It began by reminding readers that a great many experienced and successful teachers have left their profession in the past few years and that very few college students are enrolling in education programs to replace them. Then, it reported that states and school districts have lowered their standards for new teachers considerably in order to fill so many empty positions. Finally, the writers stated what they saw as the consequences: “As has been the case for decades, these policies will hit children in poverty hardest because they are disproportionally assigned teachers with the weakest preparation.”

From there, the article went on to recommend that the current system of training teachers should be replaced by teacher residence programs, reasoning that “Just as we recognize that aspiring doctors need training before they can diagnose and prescribe, we must acknowledge that teaching candidates require an upfront investment. Aspiring teachers need well-designed and well-supported preparation.”

Although I acknowledge the realities of what is happening to experienced teachers today, the inadequate preparations of many who are replacing them, and the possible negative effects on many students; I find it hard to jump from the damaging effects of  a lack of experienced and/or properly certified teachers to accepting teacher residencies as a “cure all”. For one thing, the article does not describe a residency fully enough to persuade me that it is superior to current education programs or that children taught by a resident will be better off than those taught by a student teacher.

In addition, the authors  leave out a lot of important details: Will a residency program take longer and cost more than most college students can afford?; will a resident be paid for teaching a class? Also, even if residencies do produce better teachers, how many years will it take for us to see better student results in our schools?

Despite those unanswered questions however, I would like to see some careful experimentation with the idea of residencies in the near future. During my own time as a high school English Teacher in the 1970s, I had a teacher resident under my supervision for one year, and the experience turned out fine for both of us.

What I remember is that I agreed to have a young woman in her last year of training in a nearby university education program come to work with me as a resident for a year. She taught only one of the classes I ordinarily taught, relieving me of that responsibility, and also observed me teaching other classes.  My job was to observe her teaching and confer with her on a regular basis. Things worked out very well. The young woman was smart and talented; we became friends, and learned a lot from each other. After her year of residency the school principal offered her a job, and she began a long and successful career at our school.

Based on that experience, I would like to see more education programs give some of their students residencies before completing their programs. My concern, however, is that such positions should not be given to every student, only to the most competent ones. And, perhaps, to other candidates who had already been successful as student teachers. We cannot afford to have mediocre people learning their craft while they are full time teachers in classrooms.

3 responses to “Are Teacher Residents Better than Student Teachers?

  1. Joan Kramer says:

    I like this – your point is so well taken. I have to say that I thought my education program was ideal. We spent everyday from 9 – 12 in an elementary classroom with a master teacher, and every afternoon studying theory. I also was lucky enough to work in the University preschool – such a wonderful school that parents tried to apply before their children were born. In any case, I felt that I had an excellent program and in only one year. Later I became friends with a teacher from England — we were both teaching in Tanzania, East Africa. She was a brilliant teacher and had been trained for THREE years! Not sure if perhaps more than one year of training might be ideal. [By the way, I am still friends with my Master teacher after 46 years, even though I think I was her worst pupil.]


    • writerjoney says:

      I was not so lucky. I started teaching in times when new teachers were scarce, and my only preparation was 9 weeks at summer school. Although I did take courses for full certification afterward while I was teaching, my first couple of years were difficult for me and not fair to my students.

      BTW, Diane Ravitch posted my essay on “True Grit” which was originally on my blog.


  2. ciedie aech says:

    Sadly, I have seen many enthusiastic teachers come into our district’s low-income schools ready to take on the world…only to be harnessed and blamed and unsupported and thus barely effective no matter their intent. Until we rid our public educational system of the idea that “test-scores” decide how we should treat our teachers, we cannot prepare them for success in poor schools. Poor children have always, and will always, have reasons why they do not produce “acceptably” high test scores.


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