Lessons learned from a Los Angeles teacher residency program

Working intentionally to recruit and create pathways into teaching, encouraging strong mentors and mentor–mentee relationships, offering new teachers a community of peers, and having adequate and focused program staff capacity are some elements of a successful residency program, according to Partnership for Los Angeles Schools’ brief “Investing in New Teachers: Early Lessons from the Partnership for LA Schools’ Teacher Residency Program,” released in March.

Launched two years ago with the Alder Graduate School of Education, the partnership invests in placing new, well-trained teachers of color in high-need schools, while combining immersive, hands-on practice in the classroom with educational theory and research, the organization states.

The effort comes as California grapples with a teacher shortage that has the greatest impact on students of color in high-need schools. In Los Angeles, the highest need schools had twice the number of unfilled vacancies as the lowest need schools last year.

Teacher residencies are seen as a promising strategy to remedy the issue and attract more diverse candidates to the profession. Residents who are part of the LA program are assigned to schools within the partnership and have a mentor teacher who they work side-by-side with for a year to support their development and prepare them to lead a class.

“Residents are more likely to come from the community they serve and more likely to continue to teach in the same school community, which is invaluable as we look to build a diverse workforce that better reflects the communities we serve,” according to the brief. “Schools that host residents benefit from having an additional caring adult in the classroom, at little or no cost to the schools.”

With policymakers investing hundreds of millions of dollars in expanding teacher residency programs in California, early lessons from the partnership’s endeavor could be beneficial to others.

The program

With 13 current residents, the program is growing to train 25 teachers per year.

Eighty-five percent of residents in the most recent cohort are people of color, 67 percent are first-generation college students and 67 percent received a Pell Grant, which is only available to those with an exceptional financial need.

Of the first cohort, all of the participants are working at Los Angeles Unified School District campuses and 80 percent are at partnership schools.

Resident student teachers, first year teachers who completed the program, mentor teachers and program administrators shared feedback on their experiences.

The program has found success in building pathways by intentionally recruiting within school communities including parents, paraeducators and neighbors as well as providing mentors who teacher residents can trust and learn from and reflect with.

Having a community of peers who are also going through the program and can support each other, and a full-time residency director and staff focused on helping their advancement, are other cornerstones.

“If it wasn’t for the residency program, it would be like I was dropped in a cornfield and left to find my own way. I don’t think I would last,” said Raul Ortiz, a program graduate and teacher at Edwin Markham Middle School.

For programs to be successful in supporting new teachers, there must be a paradigm shift in the way officials think about the teacher workforce, the brief states.

Schools and local educational agencies may consider taking a long-term view of attracting, developing and sustaining teachers rather than being reactive due to vacancies and using short-term fixes.

Because the first few years in the field can be challenging, making teachers’ well-being and sustainability a priority is also key.

Lastly, having a full-time position to lead teacher residencies and take ownership of an LEAs’ success in preparing teachers in a residency program is important.