Elementary Education

Are Teacher Residency Programs Worth It?

Are Teacher Residency Programs Worth It?
Typically, residencies consist of either a full or half-day teaching in the classroom alongside a mentor teacher—with MAT coursework done at night and on weekends. Image from Pexels
Lucy Davies profile
Lucy Davies January 5, 2022

If you’re looking to quickly (and inexpensively) earn your MAT and teaching certificate, gain valuable real-world teaching experience, and have a job waiting for you after you graduate, a teacher residency program is a terrific option.

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Teacher residency programs function much like medical residencies. Throughout the school year, teacher residents work in classrooms, assisting and learning from experienced mentor teachers. In the evenings and on weekends, they complete coursework toward a master’s degree in teaching. This accelerated calendar allows residents to acquire real-world teaching experience and a master’s degree in just one year, jumpstarting their teaching careers.

In exchange for residency stipends, student teachers typically commit to teaching (salaried and full-time) in their residency schools for several years after graduating. Many partnering universities offer additional scholarships or other forms of financial aid to encourage students to enter the teaching profession. As a result of this arrangement, teacher residency programs boast around an 85 percent retention rate three years after graduation. This remarkable success rate stands in contrast with studies that show up to 50 percent of novice classroom teachers without the same level of real-world experience and preparation leaving the profession after their first year of teaching.

So, are teacher residency programs worth it? We explore that question by surveying:

  • Background/history of teacher residency programs
  • Do teacher residency programs produce better teachers?
  • How do teacher residency programs improve public education?
  • How will a teacher residency program impact my teaching career?
  • Teacher residency programs vs. other teacher credentialing options
  • How do I enroll in a teacher residency program?
  • Top teacher residency programs
  • Are teacher residency programs worth it?

Background/history of teacher residency programs

Teacher residencies operate through partnerships between universities or nonprofit educational organizations and schools/school districts. They are modelled after medical residency programs. Instead of holding off teaching in-person toward the end of—or after—graduate school (as traditional teacher training programs do), student teachers spend one year in the classroom, logging up to 1,400 hours of teaching under the guidance of a mentor teacher. In contrast: according to New York University numbers, students in traditional teacher preparation programs typically log only around 100 hours of classroom time.

Typically, residencies consist of either a full or half-day teaching in the classroom, with master’s-level coursework completed at night and on weekends. Many programs offer choices in English or STEM subjects, or at specific grade levels. Some offer special education tracks. Student teachers apply the lessons learned through their master’s degree coursework on a daily basis while receiving feedback from their mentoring teachers throughout the academic year. In many cases, student teachers work in high-need public or charter schools and commit to working at those same schools full-time for a specific number of years after their residencies.

Though there are exceptions, most residencies confer either a master’s degree—typically a Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT)—or a similar graduate education degree.

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Graduate degrees for teachers fall into two categories: the Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) and the Master of Education (MEd). Many resources indicate that the MAT is the best master’s degree for teachers, while MEd programs are primarily for aspiring educational administrators, policymakers, and other current education professionals who aspire to work outside the classroom. In reality, it’s not quite that simple.

Both MAT and MEd programs tend to be concentration-based, and while there are more part-time and full-time Master of Arts in Teaching programs focused on advanced pedagogic theories and skills, there are also plenty of Master of Education programs with grade-level, subject-area, and student-population concentrations.

In some areas of the US, a teacher with a master’s degree at the top of the salary schedule can earn close to $40,000 more than a teacher with a bachelor’s degree. Don’t make the mistake of assuming that going to graduate school will lead to a substantially bigger paycheck. The only way to know how much you’ll earn after graduating with a master’s in teaching or master’s in education is to look at the salary schedule in your district. You should be able to see at a glance how your education and experience will translate into dollars. (source)

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Do teacher residency programs produce better teachers?

Early research suggests that teacher residencies increase diversity among teachers. They also improve teacher retention rates (addressing teacher shortages in many districts across the US) and produce more effective teachers.

Traditionally, residency programs attract more students of color. In its 2020 report, the National Center for Teacher Residencies (NCTR) noted that more than 60 percent of teaching residents were people of color—40 percent more than those entering from traditional programs. Additionally, the report found that over 20 percent of residents specialize in STEM subjects.

High retention rates benefit schools and students. The Learning Policy Institute found that teacher experience corresponds with “student achievement gains”, especially in the early years of a teacher’s career. Residents can also have a positive impact on their mentor teachers, who tend to increase their teacher effectiveness score (TES), according to a Glass Frog Solutions paper.

How do teacher residency programs improve public education?

One of the most important outcomes of teacher residency programs is how the targeted training of new teachers impacts underserved communities and student learners. “Developing and supporting the next generation of teachers is fundamental to the future success of students and communities,” notes Sylvia M. Burwell, American University President. “By educating teachers with cultural competence, compassion, and mentoring, we are preparing these changemakers to create dynamic and equitable learning opportunities.”

According to the National Center for Teacher Residencies (NCTR), Title I public schools (federally funding for schools serving low-income students) employ more than 90 percent of graduates from teacher residency programs (the NCTR notes that 94 percent of the student residents feel prepared for these high-needs environments after graduating). In these schools, oftentimes the teacher turnover rate is abysmal—50 percent higher than average, according to the Learning Policy Institute.

Indeed, a white paper by the Learning Policy Institute noted that “[n]ational studies of teacher retention indicate that around 20 to 30 percent of new teachers leave the profession within the first five years, and that attrition is even higher (often reaching 50 percent or more) in high-poverty schools and in high-need subject areas, like the ones in which residents teach. Studies of teacher residency programs consistently point to the high retention rates of their graduates, even after several years in the profession, generally ranging from 80 to 90 percent in the same district after three years and 70 to 80 percent after five years.”

Research also has revealed that the presence of Black teachers in the classroom significantly benefits Black students. For instance, a study titled “The Long-Run Impacts of Same-Race Teachers” released by the National Bureau of Economic Research (and reported by US News & World Report) reveals that “Black students who are exposed to one Black teacher by third grade were 13 percent more likely to enroll in college. Those who had two Black teachers were 32 percent more likely to enroll in college.” Research by the IZA Institute of Labor Economics indicates that “having just one Black teacher in elementary school significantly increases the chances that low-income Black students graduate high school and consider attending college—and, for poor Black boys, it decreases the risk of dropping out by nearly 40 percent.”

As well, a 2018 Learning Policy Institute study entitled “Diversifying the Teaching Profession: How to Recruit and Retain Teachers of Color” by Desiree Carver-Thomas notes that: “(1) Teachers of color boost the academic performance of students of color, including improved reading and math test scores, improved graduation rates, and increases in aspirations to attend college. (2) Students of color and White students report having positive perceptions of their teachers of color, including feeling cared for and academically challenged. (3) Greater diversity of teachers may mitigate feelings of isolation, frustration, and fatigue that can contribute to individual teachers of color leaving the profession when they feel they are alone.”

How will a teacher residency program impact my teaching career?

Earning your master’s degree through one of these high-quality teacher preparation programs yields a number of benefits, the first of which is guaranteed employment after successfully completing your full-year residency. The rigors of your residency year provide you a clinical experience in a school where you will most likely continue teaching. Not only will you have a job that you are fully trained and qualified for, but also you’ll already be familiar with the staff, policies, and inner workings of your school.

As previously mentioned, teacher residency programs typically offer a much lower out-of-pocket cost for obtaining your master’s degree as a result of stipends, grants, and even a salary for the residency year. This may allow you to begin your teaching career relatively free of student debt.

Teacher residency programs versus other teacher credentialing options

While there are a number of master’s degree programs that you can pursue within a teacher residency program, many states offer alternate routes to a teaching certificate for prospective teachers who hold their bachelor’s degree and want to move into teaching without pursuing a graduate degree.

Programs like Teach for America offer a framework similar to teacher residency programs, providing professional development and a path toward a teaching credential for students, recent graduates, and those who want to make a career change.

If you’re interested in other alternate paths to earning a teaching credential, the best way is to contact the department of education in the state you wish to teach—they will be able to provide you with the most current and accurate information. Take note, however, that these programs rarely result in graduate-level degrees. That’s significant because many school systems provide automatic pay increases to teacher’s holding a relavent master’s degree.

How do I enroll in a teacher residency program?

The process for enrolling in a teacher residency program depends on the program you choose, which is partially determined by your professional interests and career goals. Remember that these programs work in partnership with high-needs schools and school districts, so you will need to consider location when you begin your research. The process for each program is different, but the basic principles of the teacher residency model apply.

How long are teacher residencies/what to expect

Residency programs typically last one school year (prep and finishing work may be done during the bookended summer months) with student teachers working alongside experienced mentors and co-teaching in their own classrooms. Classroom management and teaching responsibilities increase through the school year.

On a practical level, teacher residency programs significantly cut down the time it takes to obtain your Master of Arts in Teaching degree and teaching certification. Alternative routes can take five to seven years of combined undergraduate-graduate study.

Admission requirements/prerequisites

Each higher education program partnership specifies admission requirements and prerequisites. Some seek students who recently completed a bachelor’s degree, some offer career transfer opportunities for those looking to make a move into teaching from another industry. Most programs require, along with the completed application, a minimum undergraduate GPA and transcript, standardized test scores (though fewer and fewer schools are requiring the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) and other standardized tests), letters of recommendation, and a statement of purpose, which should outline your educational interests and goals and how their particular program will help you achieve them.

Curriculum

Curriculum consists of graduate-level coursework, which runs alongside your student teaching, allowing you to put theory into practice right away. Coursework typically covers cultural sensitivity, pedagogic theory, teaching methods, multicultural education, building the classroom community, language policies and practice, and other topics specific to your subject matter specialization and grade level.

Specialization

One of the characteristics of the teacher residency program is that you are able to choose a subject of specialization or a specific grade level to begin your teaching experience. The choices will again depend on the school system and the student population there, but you may be able to choose from STEM work in math and science or a language focus for English as a second language (ESL) students, or English language and writing. Some programs offer a special education track.

You can also choose to focus on a specific age group. Do you see yourself in early education? Or in elementary, middle, or high school levels of instruction? Your choice of program and partnerships will be based on these interests.

Are there scholarships and stipends available for teacher residencies?

Many teaching residency programs offer financial incentives, including stipends, tuition discounts, or grants in return for a teaching commitment of two or more years with the host school. Each program is designed by the program partners, so financial offerings vary.

Top teacher residency programs

Teacher residency programs have been developing steadily over the last two decades, with early roots in Boston and Chicago area schools. Here are some programs designed to help you make an impact.

American University

American University’s School of Education partners with a number of local, regional, and national organizations, including the American of Independent Schools of Greater Washington, City Year, Teach for America, Urban Teachers, and others to offer tuition discounts and other incentives to pursue master’s and doctorate-level degrees in teacher residency programs. The many partnerships create a range of opportunities both on campus and online to find one that aligns with your goals.

Drexel University

Drexel University’s School of Education partners with select Philadelphia public schools to prepare students for grades 7-12 secondary teacher in the areas of biology, chemistry, earth and space science, general science, mathematics, or physics, or grades 4-8 middle-level yeacher in the areas of English language arts, mathematics, or science. The program offers a salary of $38,611, a tuition scholarship of $7,500, and full health benefits for the year. The residency program year ends with a PA Instructional I Teaching credential and the opportunity to continue on to a master’s degree at a greatly reduced rate.

Lesley University

Located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Lesley University offers a year-long teaching residency program in partnership with a number of independent and public schools in Massachusetts, plus one in Maine. Financial details and class offerings vary with each partnership, but all offer tuition discounts and the accelerated year-long cohort model.

New York University

NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development offers a year-long program to earn a Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) in a New York City public or charter middle or high school, or in partnership programs in Danbury, CT, upstate New York, Washington, DC, San Francisco, and Palm Beach Florida. The program combines “comprehensive instruction from a world-renowned research university with deep partnerships in districts and charter schools across the country” to train prospective teachers in “asset-based education” and “a variety of classroom management and pedagogical techniques, including restorative justice, strategies for authentic assessment, and individualized instruction.”

Purdue University

Purdue University’s College of Education offers a program for students with strong math and science backgrounds and professionals looking to transition from a career in STEM fields. The school partners with the Indianapolis public schools, offering offers a stipend of $46,500 over 18 months. Participants earn their Master in Science in Secondary STEM Education with Initial Licensure.

Online/hybrid teacher residency options

While a teacher residency program relies on an in-person classroom presence, much of the coursework can be completed online. As a result, more and more schools are providing this option, including online offerings from Purdue, and hybrid programs from The University at Buffalo and Drexel. All the coursework in NYU’s residency program is available online.

Are teacher residency programs worth it?

If you’re looking to quickly earn your MAT and teaching certificate, gain valuable real-world teaching experience that will prepare you for a successful career, and have a job waiting for you after you graduate, a teacher residency program is a terrific option.

These programs also benefit the communities they serve. As Amy Auletto of Michigan State University College of Education notes, “Teacher residency programs specifically target talented college graduates, career changers, and community members who have the expertise and background to teach in high-need subject areas. Because they improve retention rates, encourage a more diverse teaching workforce, and fill high-need teaching positions, we should continue to invest further in teacher residency programs.”

(Last Updated on February 26, 2024)

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Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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