Learning to teach from a teacher

Medical school graduates work as residents to learn how to be competent doctors. The Boston Teacher Residency is training Renee Alves, 22, in an experienced teacher’s classroom, reports Christopher Booker for PBS NewsHour. She “will spend 10 months watching, emulating, and learning as much as she can” from Kayla Morse, who teaches third grade at the Dudley Street Neighborhood Charter School in Roxbury.

Jesse Solomon, who taught math in Boston public schools for 10 years, co-founded the program in 2003.

One thing I saw a lot when I was teaching was– a number of brand new teachers coming into the profession. Smart, committed, hard-working, kind of willing to do whatever it takes– but not really knowing how to teach that first year.

My concern was always that they were learning on the backs on the kids that had them that year, right? So if you’re a first-year teacher in Algebra 1 class, you get another shot next year. For those kids taking Algebra 1, that was their shot at algebra 1. So had in my head that there’s gotta be a better way to do this.

Three of four residency graduates in the past 12 years are teaching in Boston — including Morse, who completed her residency four years ago.

The program “has shown success not only retaining more teachers but hiring more science and math specialists, and placing more Black, Latino, and Asian-Americans in the classroom,” reports Booker.

The program was redesigned when a 2011 Harvard study found that first-year residents’ students earned lower math scores than students of first-year teachers  from traditional programs.

Now, residents are concentrated in fewer schools, says Solomon.

So if you have, you know, seven math residents and seven math mentors and a math clinic teacher educator, you have 15 people all in the same school talking together on a daily basis about what, like, does good math teaching look like– for– for the kids in this school.

Residents assist a mentor teacher four days a week and spend the fifth day taking graduate classes to earn a master’s in education.

Turnover is high for black, brown teachers

Alexandria Neason taught English language arts at Leilehua High School in Wahiawa, Hawaii from 2011-2013 through Teach for America. She graduated from the same school in 2006. (Photo: Annalise Miyashiro)

Alexandria Neason taught English at Leilehua High School in Wahiawa, Hawaii from 2011-2013 through Teach for America. (Photo: Annalise Miyashiro)

Most public school teachers 82 percent are white, even as the majority of their students are not. Where have all the black and brown teachers gone? asks Alexandria Neason on the Hechinger Report.

It’s not enough to recruit minority teachers, Neason writes. Turnover is high for blacks and Latinos. “Our schools are churning and burning teachers of color at unconscionably high rates.”

The number of non-white teachers entering the profession doubled in the 1980s in response to large-scale recruitment programs, says Richard Ingersoll, a Penn education professor. But minority teachers were 24 percent more likely to quit than their white colleagues from 1988 to 2008.

. . . minority teachers are more likely to work in high-poverty, low-performing schools where turnover rates are higher among teachers of all races and backgrounds. Working conditions in these schools can be more difficult given the challenge of teaching large populations of high-needs students with insufficient resources and chronic staff turnover. And many federal and local policies over the last two decades have aggravated these tensions — pushing out teachers and principals at “failing” schools or closing them outright, for instance.

On top of that, teachers of color often feel isolated or stereotyped, particularly in schools where most of the other teachers are white or come from a different background.

A few programs now work on keeping minority teachers in the classroom, writes Neason.

Several studies in the late 1980s and early ‘90s, for instance, found that teachers of color can boost the self worth of their minority students, partly by exposing them to professionals who look like them.

Research has shown that students perform better academically, graduate at higher rates, and stay in school longer when they have teachers who come from the same backgrounds as they do.

High suspension rates for black students could be alleviated by keeping more teachers of color in the classroom, argues Esther Quintero, a senior policy fellow at the Albert Shanker Institute.

Illinois may dump test for would-be teachers

Only 35 percent of would-be teachers in Illinois passed a basic skills test in math, reading, language arts and writing this year. Teacher candidates must pass — they have five tries — to be admitted to a teacher preparation program. The state board of education should resist pressure to eliminate the requirement, editorializes the Chicago Tribune.

Because black and Hispanic candidates are more likely to fail, Chicago-area education college deans oppose the higher standards.

 The Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law may file a civil rights lawsuit against the state because the threshold unfairly creates too high a hurdle for minority candidates who want to be teachers. The cut scores “almost certainly will have a disparate impact on minorities,” Paul Strauss, co-director of litigation for the group, tells us.

Maintaining high standards is worth a fight, the Trib argues.

“The test does not measure traits such as enthusiasm, empathy, ability to communicate effectively with children, and dedication to the teaching profession,” writes Strauss.

It’s certainly possible to have basic reading, writing and math skills and be a lousy teacher. But all the enthusiasm and empathy in the world won’t turn a semi-literate, innumerate person into a good teacher — at least not if she’s supposed to teach reading, writing, ‘rithmetic, history or science.

Illinois may exempt teacher candidates who score a 22 or better — considered “college ready” — on the ACT from taking the basic skills exam. “By comparison, in 2008 researchers at the Illinois Education Research Council reported what thousands of veteran Chicago teachers had scored an average of 19.4 (out of a possible 36) on their ACT exams,” reports the  Trib.

Would-be secondary teachers — those planning to specialize in English, history, math, science, etc. — tend to score above average on college admissions tests. Would-be elementary teachers tend to score below average for college goers.

Update:  Teacher education programs will be allowed to admit students who fail some parts of the basic skills test on a provisional basis. They must pass the entire test to complete the program.