Residents and attending teachers meet once a month to reflect on their experiences. To hear audio recordings about their impressions so far, go to https://archive.storycorps.org/user/cmcdteach/. Photo by Sylvia Saunders.
Ask Ryan Schuette about the new teacher prep program he's in, and he'll tell you he's like one of those harried resident doctors on a TV medical show.
"It's only Monday and I'm completely exhausted," said Schuette, a resident teacher at Hudson Falls High School as part of his SUNY master's degree study to become a secondary English teacher. "It's definitely long hours and intense — but I love it."
Schuette, who graduated with a bachelor's degree in business administration and management, is one of several residents pioneering The Classroom Academy, a union-backed residency model launched this fall by two rural North Country school districts, the local BOCES, and SUNY Plattsburgh's Queensbury campus.
The pilot program began with a $738,000 National Education Association grant distributed over three years. The NEA promotes clinically rich preparation to boost teacher recruitment and retention.
"The goal is to fully immerse the teacher candidate with a strong support system and ongoing professional development," said program director Colleen McDonald, a recently retired teacher leader and Cambridge Faculty Association member. "At the same time, the program offers much-needed teacher leadership roles — a seriously rewarding career path for accomplished teachers."
NYSUT Executive Vice President Jolene T. DiBrango said residency is a promising approach.
"At a time when we're facing a teacher shortage, we want to do everything we can to encourage more people to enter the profession and, most importantly, help them succeed," she said.
About 50 teacher residency programs are scattered around the country, most in big cities like San Francisco, Boston, Seattle and New York City. The Classroom Academy is among a handful of residency programs serving rural schools, which also have difficulty recruiting and retaining educators.
Under The Classroom Academy model, aspiring teachers with bachelor's degrees are placed in a two-year residency in Washington County schools, including Cambridge, Hudson Falls and Washington- Saratoga-Warren-Hamilton-Essex BOCES. The program uses the same lingo as hospital residencies: Candidates are called "residents" and the experienced instructors overseeing their work are known as "attendings."
Aside from getting extended first-hand experience in the classroom, each resident receives a $22,000-a-year living stipend to ensure equity and access, plenty of individualized and group support, and a year's credit toward professional certification.
Residents also take master's level courses, including up to 15 credits in pedagogy the summer before their classroom placement. The attending teachers receive a $4,500 stipend each year to recognize the complexity of their role.
When Courtney Berg, a former teaching assistant at WSWHE BOCES, first heard about the residency program, she thought it was too good to be true. "I said, ‘What? I'm going to get to work at a school, earn a stipend and (pursue) my master's degree?' I thought I'd have to go to another country or something."
When she decided to become a teacher, Berg initially planned to keep working as a TA and go to night school, but that would have taken considerably longer than the two-year residency program.
She also likes the program because it's so hands-on. "That's the way I learn best," she said. The arrangement has opened Berg's eyes to what a general education inclusion classroom looks like.
Residents said they feel fortunate to spend so much time in classrooms. In just the third week of school, resident Stacia Bonanno was already leading an ELA lesson on gratitude with her second graders while attending teacher Heather Gwin took notes and quietly interceded when a boy was having trouble staying focused.
Later in the day, Bonanno and Gwin would take some time to compare notes on what went well with the lesson and what might be improved.
Down the hall in first grade, a colorful photo display showed students enjoying a hands-on "Making Caves" project with resident Kayleigh Ward. As students started working on paragraphs, both Ward and attending teacher Jessica Kirk worked their way around the room helping individual students.
At Hudson Falls Elementary, resident Megan Headwell marveled at how fast the days go in the second-grade class she shares with Jessica Hogan. "When I worked at an accounting firm, I'd sit at my desk and check the clock every three minutes," Headwell said. "Now, when I'm in the classroom the day flies by. I'm not focusing on time because I enjoy what I'm doing. It's such a good feeling."
"I'm really happy this is a two-year program," said Schuette, who is working with grades 9-10-11 English teacher Sharon Farrell. "If this were the traditional student teaching experience, I'd just about be wrapping up my first placement," he said. "I feel like I'm just getting started."
The attending teachers said they get as much out of the experience as the residents.
"It's definitely been very reflective for me as an educator," said Kirk. "It makes me take a step back and think through more of what I do and why I do it ... it's a growing experience for both of us."
Like many of the attending teachers, Kirk is using the experience while she participates in the National Board process. As part of the residency program, both residents and attending teachers participate in a monthly professional learning community experience, keep reflective journals and will do clinical "rounds" to observe other practitioners.
"To have a two-year placement and a consistent go-to person is phenomenol," said Cambridge FA President Donna Phinney, who helped recruit participants. "They're going to be so much more prepared."
"I'm excited for them. You want to tell them, ‘You're so lucky!'" said Hudson Falls Superintendent Linda Goewey. While there's no specific service requirement after the two years, she hopes the residency model will encourage participants to look at rural districts and want to stay.
Stephen Danna, dean of SUNY Plattsburgh's Queensbury branch campus, said he envisions districts will start looking for residents to fill specific upcoming vacancies.
"Someone might say, ‘Hey we're going to be looking for a bio teacher,' and we can keep that in mind with placements," Danna said. "This program becomes a feeder system — helps us create a farm league leading to the major league."
McDonald said a key part of the NEA grant was creating a program that could be scaled up and sustainable, without depending on grant funding. That's where BOCES and the consortia with multiple districts came in. Under a state-approved Contract for Shared Service, or CoSer, the districts are reimbursed for a substantial portion of salaries.
For example, Hudson Falls will get back 70 cents for every dollar spent, said WSWHE BOCES administrator Tony Muller. "It's an investment for the district," Muller said. "If you bring someone in for two years and they know you and the culture, there's hope they'll stay with you," he said. "And you're creating very strong teachers."
For more information, contact McDonald at firstname.lastname@example.org.