Should Teacher Training Be More Like Medical School?

Such a vital occupation as teaching requires on-the-job training and guidance from veteran professionals.

When a student finishes medical school, we don’t expect him or her to simply throw on some gloves and take command of an OR. More to the point, we wouldn’t want them to. Such a vital occupation requires on-the-job training and guidance from veteran professionals. Millions of dollars are spent on medical residency programs each year for a reason.

In a recent op-ed in The New York Times, researchers ask why the teaching profession is treated differently. Educators and learners alike would benefit from a teacher residency system, write Shael Polakow-Suransky, Josh Thomases, and Karen DeMoss of the Bank Street College of Education.

In our current system, pre-service teachers typically complete classroom practicums, but the amount of required student-teaching time varies from program to program and is sometimes nonexistent in alternative routes to licensure. Teachers go straight from a certification program into a classroom where they are typically the only teacher. That’s shortsighted, write the authors. Educators with little field training are less effective. And many teachers leave the profession shortly after entering it, feeling unsupported or overwhelmed by the responsibilities. That frequent turnover creates a harmful norm of instability for students and an expensive headache for administrators.

The relatively fast path to the teaching profession is not an accident. In response to teacher shortages, many states have expedited the journey to licensure and employment.[pullquote]Some states have expedited the journey to teacher licensure.[/pullquote]

While adding more steps to full employment could ostensibly make the profession less appealing, the op-ed authors argue the opposite could also be true. The residency programs that do exist pay trainees the salary of an assistant teacher. The participants are afforded the time to get more comfortable and confident before they go it alone.

Data from existing programs show that residency participants are more likely to keep teaching. The retention rate after a few years is upward of 80 percent, while almost half of other new teachers leave the profession, according to the authors. Early studies suggest they are also more likely to improve student achievement, the op-ed authors write.

Getting teacher training right is critical. Strong teachers make the difference for students, so it is imperative that they receive adequate preparation before they are put in charge. According to the RAND Corporation, teachers have two to three times the impact on students’ reading and math test scores than other factors like the school’s resources or administration. And the impact of a good teacher extends far beyond academic achievement. A study by Harvard and Columbia researchers found that teachers who boost students’ test scores also positively affect their likelihood to attend college and receive higher salaries.[pullquote]Teachers need support to become strong mentors who will stick around.[/pullquote]

Strong teachers also provide important emotional support, encouragement, and mentorship to their students. For some students, teachers are the adults who are most present in their lives.

“Students who have positive relationships with their teachers use them as a secure base from which they can explore the classroom and school setting” and develop academic and social skills, write researchers at NYU. For high school students, these relationships can reduce their likelihood of dropping out by nearly half.

It is in everyone’s interest to give teachers the time and support they need to become strong mentors who will stick around. A number of policies and interventions—innovative professional development, better compensation, licensing standards—aim to achieve that goal. A teaching residency program is another to consider.

Published August 23, 2016