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Preparing K-12 teachers to meet today's social challenges

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Tue, Aug 18th 2020 04:35 pm

UB Teacher Residency Program begins its second year amid unrest caused by racial injustice, COVID-19

By the University at Buffalo

As school districts nationwide grapple with several challenges as a new school year approaches, a program now in its second year at the University at Buffalo is equipping future K-12 teachers with the tools to address these issues head on.

UB’s Teacher Residency Program, which welcomed its second cohort of aspiring educators this month, is doing its part to address the challenges of teaching amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, while at the same time responding to issues surrounding racial injustice.

The timing couldn’t be more critical for the program.

“These last few months have been some of the most challenging most of us have faced professionally and personally. The twin effects of our national reckoning with systemic racism, specifically anti-Blackness, coupled with a pandemic that is disproportionately affecting people of color, should be a wake-up call to all of us,” said Suzanne Rosenblith, Ph.D., dean of UB’s Graduate School of Education, which runs the program.

UB’s Teacher Residency Program aims to be part of the solution in three key ways, by:

√ Providing a pipeline of aspiring teachers from underrepresented minority groups to the Buffalo Public Schools, a district with an extremely diverse group of students and families.

√ Equipping graduate students with the skills they need to succeed in the classroom, including learning how to educate students in a virtual learning environment while teaching through the lens of racial equity.

√ Ensuring that teachers who start their careers in Buffalo remain in BPS schools.

“The program is about increasing the readiness of teachers coming out of teacher education programs. We want to make sure they’re learner-ready on their first day in the classroom,” said program director Amanda Winkelsas, Ph.D., clinical assistant professor of learning and instruction in the Graduate School of Education.

“In the residency program, we are preparing the next generation of teachers for Buffalo Public Schools who not only believe in racial equity, but who also know how to teach and advocate through racial equity lenses,” added Rosenblith.

Building Off Year 1 Success

UB’s Teacher Residency Program offers a different route into the teaching profession. Traditionally, students earn their degree and spend a few months student teaching before taking a full-time job.

“The residency program works in this dynamic way that allows future teachers to be in the classroom while finishing their coursework and their requirements for becoming a teacher,” said Cristina Mata, a member of the inaugural group.

The residency program begins in May and ends in August of the following year. Students take classes in the summer, at night and online while working toward their master’s degree at UB.

The first cohort saw 12 future teachers placed within five Buffalo Public Schools, where they worked full time alongside veteran BPS teachers during the 2019-20 school year.

All 12 have been hired by BPS as full-time teachers for the coming year. Mata will teach Spanish at Hutch Tech, the same school she was placed in last year as part of her co-teaching assignment.

“I’m excited to see my students again,” she said, adding the residency program provided her the tools necessary to begin her teaching career. “It’s made my teaching preparation experience so much more meaningful and I feel like I’m ready to take on my teaching career.”

Students from the first group will have a leg up on their peers as they begin their teaching careers this fall, Winkelsas said, noting many of them implemented research-based, online learning best practices in the classrooms in which they taught this past school year.

“Virtual instruction will be less of an issue for them. They had to adapt with BPS in the spring, and they’ve spent the summer preparing for several possible scenarios. They’re waiting and ready to offer even stronger virtual instruction to their students this fall.”

Summer Institute Sets Tone

There are 15 students in the second cohort and, like the first cohort, 60% of them are people of color. They will be placed among six BPS schools this fall: South Park High School, Frederick Law Olmsted, B.U.I.L.D. Community School, Hutch Tech, Lafayette International High School and Frank A. Sedita Academy.

To help get the students ready for their upcoming teaching assignments, UB recently held its second Teacher Residency Summer Institute, which provided them a week’s worth of virtual sessions with fellow residents, as well as mentor teachers, school leaders and faculty members from the Graduate School of Education.

The week was highlighted by a talk by David E. Kirkland, Distinguished Professor of Urban Education at New York University, who discussed ways to make K-12 education in a post-COVID-19 world anti-racist.

“Healing the system will take time,” Kirkland said. “So when we go back to physical classrooms, it must be OK if we don’t just go straight into the curriculum … because this time spent healing ourselves and our systems will take us farther than pressing forward while sick.”

The program is supported by funding from the Buffalo-based Cullen Foundation, John R. Oishei Foundation and the U.S. Department of Education’s Teacher Quality Partnership grant program. By the end of its five-year partnership with the Buffalo Public Schools, UB’s Teacher Residency Program is expected to have trained 70 future teachers, the majority of whom will be people of color.

“Never has a program like the UB Teacher Residency Program been more important,” Rosenblith said. “From the outset, we designed a program that we believe will better attract and retain a linguistically, racially, economically and ethnically diverse group of teachers who are learner-ready and who will stay in the profession.”

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