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Urban Teacher Residency Program Welcomes First Cohort of Future Teachers

urban teacher residency

As Kalamazoo Public Schools looked at the ever-diminishing numbers of teachers, the district realized there was a pool of talented individuals with an already demonstrated interest in working with students: paraprofessionals. 

The new Urban Teacher Residency Program is helping interested paraprofessionals and other staff pursue their dreams of becoming teachers in a unique effort that provides mentoring, financial support, and job training while they earn their teaching credentials. Some residents earn a master's degree, while others are enrolled in a non-degree program. 

The program welcomed its first cohort of eight residents this fall. All are working in KPS elementary schools. Plans are to expand the opportunity to those interested in studying special education next year.

 Residents say they were attracted to the program because of the opportunity it provides to fast-track a career in education through in-depth, hands-on training. 

“I was a stay-at-home mom for 15 years, my youngest started Kindergarten this fall, and I wanted to pursue my teaching profession,” said resident Elita Jones. “I like that I can work at a school full-time and do the accelerated program at the same time. I am a mature student. I need to work and go to school at the same time and this program provided both.” 

Resident Jennifer Wright said, “I have always wanted to be a teacher. The thought of going back to college to complete another degree was daunting. The residency program offers a myriad of supports that the normal channels did not offer.” 

Dr. Regena Fails Nelson, chair of WMU’s Department of Teaching, Learning and Educational Studies in the College of Education and Human Development, led the efforts to secure a $4.9 million U.S. Department of Education grant to support UTRP, which is designed to help current school district employees — paraprofessionals, bus drivers, food service workers and others — earn their teacher certification while they work. The program is being launched in KPS and Benton Harbor schools. 

“The main thing for us is to be able to create pathways to education for our paraprofessionals and Title I tutors who are interested in becoming teachers. They were all recommended by the principals where they are currently working,” said Steve Leland, the district’s administrative personnel officer. “UTRP helps address the teacher shortage and has the potential to increase the ranks of teachers from under-represented populations as more people learn about the opportunity.” 

All of the residents are women who have been with the district for as little as one year or as long as 10 years. All participants already possess a bachelor’s degree of some sort, but not in education. 

Resident Caroline Barkman said, “This program looks appealing to me because it is short and it also allows me to work and take classes at the same time. Regardless, this program requires a lot of work and determination.” 

Participants maintain their jobs with the district and receive a $20,000 stipend, which helps them cover their tuition and other college costs. Their classes are integrated with a year-long internship with a mentor teacher. The internship combines some of their previous paraprofessional work with more in-depth co-teaching with their mentors. 

“It combines their classwork with their student teaching, which is why it’s so intensive,” said Leland, who noted that the traditional student teaching experience only lasts 15 weeks, while the UTRP provides a full year of hands-on experience.

“They start by observing at the start, then take over a week at a time in subject areas so by the end of the year, they’re running the entire class. That’s the goal,” he said. 

KPS also has hired a district mentor coach, Tonja Washington, who is available to help residents with any needs, from lesson planning to behavior management. The “master teacher” role is there to support the mentor teachers as well to help guide the residents during their year.

After completing UTRP, the residents make a three-year commitment to teaching in a KPS school. 

“Each resident is unique,” Leland said. “They have different drives and reasons for wanting to be in the program, but the unifying bond is that they want to become teachers.” 

For more information about the next application period, contact Leland at lelandsp@ or call Human Resources (269) 337-0177.