The start of the upcoming school year will mark the debut of a new type of teacher preparation program for the Twin Cities.
The Twin Cities Teacher Collaborative STEM Urban Teacher Residency program is starting small, but organizers wonder if it might be the next big thing. The program, known as TC2 is planning to train 60 teachers over the next four years.
Eight teaching candidates are entering a full-year residency at five different middle and high schools in St. Paul and Minneapolis this fall. Residencies are common for future doctors and lawyers, but teaching residencies have only been around for 11 years in other states.
The residents met as a group last week and will spend the weeks before the start of class preparing for the year. They've already met their mentor teachers; the eight will be placed at Humboldt Senior High, Highland Park Senior High and Highland Park Junior High in St. Paul, as well as at South and Southwest High Schools in Minneapolis.
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Matt Carrier, a 22-year-old program resident, was working for his father in northern Wisconsin just a few weeks ago to earn money for the upcoming year. When he'd been in the Twin Cities earlier this summer, he visited Humboldt to meet the teacher he'll be paired with.
"I walked in, thinking it's going to be a teacher... whatever the normal teacher looks like," he said. "And there was woman in a police uniform and I was like, 'Who is this? This doesn't make sense.'"
It turns out that woman was Mary Hanson, the science teacher who is also a St. Paul reserve police officer.
"Oh, he's fun, he's funny," she said. "He shook my hand and looked me in the eye - that's important - right away. I told him where my classroom was; he came and met me there; he looked around and was very complimentary."
If classrooms had marquees, room 3234 at Humboldt will be a double bill this year staring Hanson and Carrier. Much in the way medical residents get clinical experience at the shoulder of a seasoned physician and law students do clerkships with a judge or a trial attorney, Carrier will teach chemistry under the mentoring of Hanson, a 14-year teaching veteran. And both teachers will be in the room all day under a model called co-teaching.
Laura Mogelson, director of the new TC2 residency program, said the traditional student-teacher model has the cooperating teacher leaving the room during lessons.
"There are extended periods of time where this novice teacher is alone in the room and not getting the support he or she needs," she said. "So we really believe this co-teaching model - and then this expanded clinical experiences of the residency - is a better teacher preparation model."
Hanson said she remembers that 'sink or swim' experience when she student taught. She still thinks that model has value, but she's also excited for the new residency because it lasts all year instead of the three or four months like student teaching.
"From the kids, when they come in, in the first couple weeks - they're very well-behaved - to when they get comfortable with you," she said. "And then the very end, the kids are crying and the teachers are crying and it's hard to let them go at that point. But he'll get to see that whole, entire picture."
Carrier received a chemistry degree this spring, but he hasn't learned the art of teaching. He didn't take any education classes as an undergraduate student because his original life plan did not include teaching.
"Mary, my mentor teacher, had said this to me, that the content is not as important as building relationships with your students and caring about your students," he said. "And I thought that resonated with me, especially because I see when you do care about a student and put the time in to show you're a genuine person and you genuinely care about who they are as a person, they learn so much more. It's unreal."
TC2 is a way into teaching for non-education majors like Carrier. There are also a few mid-career professionals who want to switch to teaching.
TC2 mirrors Teach for America, a two-year service program for people without teaching degrees, because the residency program replaces student teaching. Since both programs are geared towards people who still need to take education classes, they'll get to take those classes and earn credits towards a license throughout the year. For residents in the TC2 program, they'll be taking classes that were developed through collaboration among six metro colleges and universities: Augsburg, Bethel, Concordia-St. Paul, Hamline, St. Catherine's, and St. Thomas.
However, residency supporters note a stark difference between their program and Teach for America: The residents in this new program are not the teacher of record. So at Humboldt, they will still be Hanson's classes and Carrier won't earn his teaching license until the end of the year. Teach for America teachers are that classroom's instructor.
The residency program also has strong union support. Mary Cathryn Ricker, president of the St. Paul Federation of Teachers, said the support comes in part from the use of that co-teaching model, which she says lets teaching candidates feel supported.
"Either mistakes get corrected right away, or mistakes don't happen at all because you're right there to promote the idea together," Ricker said. "That ends up making someone who is ready to hit the ground running when they have a classroom of their own."
The Urban Teacher Residency United, a network of nearly 20 urban residency programs, was born among a handful of residency programs that started last decade, starting with Chicago in 2001. The network has reported promising numbers in teacher retention, including 98 percent of former residents in the Denver program were still teaching in high-needs schools after three years.
Officials say they're confident that residencies improve teacher retention. What they don't yet know definitively - because they're still studying - is whether students in classrooms with residents end up doing better academically.
But even if all those studies come back with glowing results, cost is a major potential stumbling block. Existing residency programs average $30,000 to $50,000 per resident.
That might be part of the reason why those programs are only preparing about 500 teachers this year, compared to the tens of thousands of undergraduate college students who still go through the traditional student teaching model every year.
The $1.4 million dollar tab for TC2 works out to $23,000 per resident, but officials worry that's not enough. This year's eight residents are getting a stipend of just $10,000 for the year, which is far below what a medical resident would make and even lower than teaching residents in other cities.
The funding is coming from the federal government and the Bush Foundation as part of its $40 million effort around teacher recruitment. Mogelson said she is already worried that residencies could turn out to be a silver bullet, but that they'll go away after the current money runs out.
"We hope to collect some really good data out of this and really start to prove our point that this is one of the things that works and it is contributing to closing the achievement gap -- which is the ultimate goal of this project," she said.