In the end, all that matters are the children.
Most people can think back to a special teacher who took an interest in them — for Emily, that teacher was Mrs. Flemings. During the middle of her sophomore year, Emily’s father took a new job in Rhode Island; which meant she had to leave her childhood home and move across the country. As she struggled to adjust to the new school her grades began to slip.
Linda Flemings is one of those rare people who know what they’re meant to do from an early age. After earning her teaching certification, she accepted a job teaching American literature in the same small Rhode Island town she grew up in. In the years that followed, she witnessed many of her colleagues leave the profession; the main reason — they felt unprepared for the challenges of teaching.
Concerned about the new girl who sat in the back row during second period, Mrs. Flemings requested that Emily stay after class. She asked if the work was too difficult, or if there were other problems she could help with. Mrs. Flemings’s kindness allowed Emily to open up and ask for help; soon she made friends, became involved in school activities, and her grades recovered. Thankfully Mrs. Flemings was there to help.
Unfortunately, this is not always the case; many schools in underserved districts lose half of their teaching staff every three years. If teachers like Mrs. Flemings are not there, students will not receive the support they need.
The Teaching Studio, headed by Director Christine Alves, is a professional development organization housed within the walls of Providence’s Learning Community Charter School. As consultants, they work with schools to develop new curriculums, update assessment plans, and highlight the importance of professional development. In 2015, only 33% of second graders attending Woonsocket Public Schools read at or above grade level — after the city partnered with The Teaching Studio that number increased to 55%.
Three years ago, Director Alves and her team began discussing the growing problem of teacher attrition. After extensive research, they came to the conclusion that much of the problem was the result of inadequate teacher training programs.
“It’s discouraging to find some teachers are coming out of graduate school not ready to teach,” she says, “so we began thinking of ways to support, change, and affect how teachers are being prepared to educate children.”
Their solution: The Urban Teacher Residency Program — a graduate school with a distinct approach.
The difference between traditional teaching programs and ones that adopt a residency model is the amount of time spent in the classroom. After earning their master’s degree, a person spends an average of one to two years in a teaching program; of this time, only a small portion is spent as a student-teacher. Residency programs increase classroom exposure, resulting in teachers that are better prepared. Research shows that teachers who have more hands-on training remain in the profession far longer. Because of this, students enrolled in The Urban Teacher Residency Program will take courses in the evening and spend their whole day in a classroom working with children.
No Easy Task
Alves has no illusions that the process will be easy, “Not only do you need to develop the entire program, but you also need to get approval by the RI Department of Education, the RI Post-Secondary Commissioner, and finally the New England Association of Schools and Colleges,” she explains.
The entire process takes between eight and ten years, so assembling a dedicated staff is vital. “The United Way of Rhode Island grant went a long way to making our school a reality by adding a third member to my core team,” explains Alves.
Graduating well-trained teachers from their school motivates this team, but they also have a much bigger picture in mind. By demonstrating that their method can reduce attrition rates and produce well qualifies teachers, they hope to start a conversation within the teaching community that inspires other programs to improve. Director Alves, the program’s biggest advocate, makes one thing very clear — the philosophy behind The Urban Teacher Residency Program is less about competing with other graduate schools and more about creating partnerships — because, in the end, all that matters are the children.
By: Jason Boulay, Communications Coordinator, UWRI