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KPS, WMU Launch New Teacher Residency Program

Sheila Dorsey-Smith Western Michigan University has secured a five year, nearly $5 million grant to help create the Urban Teacher Residency Program, which will help districts cultivate teachers from the ranks of current non-teaching staff through a yearlong, paid student teaching experience. 

WMU will collaborate with Kalamazoo Public Schools and Benton Harbor Area Schools to launch the program, which expects to name its first group of residents by next summer and to place at least 90 certified teachers in full-time teaching positions within its first three years. 

It will help candidates from within districts — such as paraprofessionals, bus drivers, and food service staff — to earn their teacher certification while they work. 

“The teacher residency program is different from a traditional student teaching experience because it is paid, which is revolutionary in the field of education.” said Sheila Dorsey-Smith, KPS assistant superintendent for human resources. “Historically, teacher candidates pay for the experience to become teachers. “In addition, the student teaching assignment for the residency program is an entire school year versus 16 weeks. This means a student teacher (intern) can build relationships with students and families over the course of a year.”

The Urban Teacher Residency Program is just one KPS effort to help build the ranks of incoming teachers and, in particular, of teacher candidates from traditionally under-represented groups. The residency aims to have at least 20 percent of program participants from racially diverse backgrounds. 

In KPS, almost 38 percent of the student population is African American, compared to only 13 percent of its teachers. KPS has worked actively to promote growth in the teaching profession at many levels, Dorsey-Smith said. 

The district has a teacher cadet program for high school students and mentors college students through the WMU student group Future Teachers of Color — which was started by several KPS alumni. 

“It will be a tremendous opportunity not just for WMU, but for KPS and Benton Harbor, to train teachers to work in our urban environments,” Dorsey-Smith said. “We want to lift up our community by lifting up individuals with a heart for children and a passion for teaching to become part of the change we are trying to make in Kalamazoo Public Schools. “ 

Organizers hope the program can become a model for other school districts and help address the teacher shortage that has plagued education for decades. 

Dr. Regena Fails Nelson The U. S. Department of Education grant was written by Dr. Regena Fails Nelson, chair of WMU’s Department of Teaching, Learning and Educational Studies. The typical undergraduate model for teachers is to pursue a four-year degree and earn certification, Nelson said. 

“For traditional students who are coming out of high school, it’s a great model,” she said. “But we recognize that with a teacher shortage, that pipeline will not fill all the openings that we’re going to have for teachers in the next five to 10 years.” 

The program was designed to help those school district employees who might be interested in teaching by creating a way to fast track the certification process for them and to make the process more affordable. 

In other professions, interns or apprentices are paid to solidify their professional skills, DorseySmith said. “In education, it is quite the opposite; we pay to learn the profession.” 

Dorsey-Smith said she’s especially pleased about two aspects of the program. Because it supports and encourages current employees to pursue their teaching degrees, it will create a cohort of teachers that is already familiar with KPS’s other teachers, administrators, practices, curriculum, and materials. That familiarity will be especially useful in a high stress learning environment, where students will be working their regular jobs while pursuing their teaching certification. 

She’s also excited that the residents will be with their assigned school districts for an entire year, because it gives them the opportunity to build important relationships with mentor teachers as well as students. 

“It allows a prospective teacher to experience the ebbs and flows that happen in a school year,” she said. “Sometimes it takes a student time to develop trust in their teacher; or for a teacher to watch a student overcome their academic struggles. This yearlong internship will give the residents the time to develop those relationships and to see educational ‘lightbulb’ moments with students.”

Read the Western Michigan University press release.