Maggie ThorntonGuest Post by

Maggie Thornton
(M.Ed. ’11 English Ed)


I need two of me.

My students really need two of me.

This semester, I haven’t mastered the art of adult human cloning. However, I did volunteer to have a student teacher. This decision has turned out to be one of the best I’ve made in my teaching career so far.

Ms. R. has been another consistent, caring adult with whom my students can connect. She takes on my duty two days a week and organizes student work after I’ve graded it. She’s also gotten involved in our tutoring planning.

Is there a way to give every teacher in the US this sort of support? Or perhaps the teachers in schools that have high-needs populations? The research on teacher residency programs such as the ones in Boston, Seattle, and Chicago so far has used testing outcomes to measure the programs. Researchers at Harvard found that the Boston program only “modestly” improved student achievement once residents moved into their own classrooms.

I value a few things more than standardized test scores. The Harvard research also found that teachers who came through the residency program were more likely to stay with the district, providing stability in a division that has nearly 50 percent turnover.

Residency programs or student teacher support may be difficult to scale in that we don’t need a 1:1 replacement rate in our schools. What we do need, however, is a way for teachers to grow in the profession without permanently leaving the classroom. Residency programs could provide this missing professional growth piece.

Residents could work in classroom support for three years, gradually taking over more of the day-to-day management of teaching, lesson planning, and the like. After they transition to being the full-time teacher, the mentor teacher could then spend time working as a master teacher who provides vertical alignment, common assessment planning, classroom teacher evaluation, and the many other administrative tasks that could be completed by someone without an administrative license. The master teacher could then transition back into the classroom with new ideas and a refreshed attitude to mentor a new teacher resident and work with a new group of students.

When I was asked to put together a post for our alma mater’s blog, I thought about the supportive role that schools of education could play. These institutions are unique clearinghouses for practice-based teacher instruction and research regarding interventions that work. Most residency programs provide some sort of graduate-level instruction.

In Boston, residents have every Friday off from the classroom to pursue the theory behind education practice. Speaking as a Curry graduate, I find myself positioned well between the theory and practice aspects of classroom teaching. Residency programs with support from schools of education could provide a model similar to that of medical schools and further boost public perception of the teaching profession.

Fellow teachers, until this virtuous cycle becomes a reality, let me offer you some advice: Get a student teacher.

Maggie teaches English at Charlottesville High School. She enjoys hiking, fiddling, running, and vegetarian cooking. She blogs at Show Your Work.