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SOE’s New Residency for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (RETL)

Similar to a medical doctor residency program, up to 15 teacher candidates will spend an academic year in a school under the direction of a master teacher.

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Alaysia Bookal ’22

The U.S. Department of Education awarded $1.8M over five years to establish the Residency for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (RETL), a partnership between American University’s (AU) School of Education, the AU College of Arts and Sciences, and Friendship Public Charter Schools. Similar to a medical doctor residency program, up to 15 teacher candidates will spend an academic year in a school under the direction of a master teacher, learning the craft of teaching before they themselves become teachers. Funded by the Department of Ed’s Teacher Quality Partnership Program, the grant supports the School of Education’s (SOE) innovative Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) program, and is aimed to recruit highly motivated teacher candidates who are dedicated to teaching in diverse early childhood and special education settings in pre-K through fifth grade.

“This model is evidence-based, combining a year-long teaching internship coupled with graduate-level coursework. It is a gold standard in the preparation of preservice teachers,” said Dr. Carolyn Parker, Director of Graduate Teacher Education, Hurst Senior Professorial Lecturer, and RETL’s Principal Investigator. “It's very similar to the idea of a medical residency where someone spends significant time learning the art and science of teaching.”

This newly-funded program is another rung on the ladder of teacher pipeline initiatives at AU’s School of Education aimed at solving the teacher shortage, including the Advancing Early Education Collaborative (AEEC) and initiatives in special education. Beginning with the Child Development Associate program to earn the credential to become an early childhood educator, students may move on to SOE’s BA in elementary education or secondary education. And, in the fall of 2024, a BA in early childhood education will be added. After that, they can earn this new residency-based MAT degree, and learners may also get a Doctorate in Education from SOE later in their career.

“We offer this supported master's level credential in early childhood education or special education because the early identification of students who may have learning challenges – such as a learning disabilities like dyslexia –is very, very important in supporting students to be academically successful as they grow older,” said Parker.

Participants will complete a 15-month residency-based master's degree in early childhood education or special education learning disabilities, making them eligible for an initial teaching license. They will receive a living stipend and reduced tuition while completing the degrees. Teacher candidates will be placed in cohort groups of 4-5 people in up to three Friendship Public Charter School elementary schools. Each teacher candidate will be paired with a qualified mentor teacher.

“What’s special about this new program is that you learn through a residency experience, which has been shown this to produce well-prepared teachers. I had the privilege of being prepared through a residency program while I completed my MAT degree,” said Parker. “I think this preparation helped me to hit the ground running as a beginning teacher. Research evidence has shown residency modles to be a highly supportive and effective way to prepare new teachers.”

The structure of RETL’s coursework and preservice teaching experience is modeled after existing residency partnerships that have demonstrated an impressive track record for recruiting and retaining new teachers: one has a 90% retention rate after 3 years, another has a 95% retention rate after 4 years, and a third has a 100% retention rate after 4 years. In comparison, the national retention rate is 84%, although that figure is lower in many urban districts.

The School of Education’s Acting Co-Dean Dr. Corbin Campbell said, “I’m really thrilled about the grant. It’s our first early childhood residency program, and our first early-childhood-based program where teachers are being prepared in their settings. It is connected to the District of Columbia, practice-based, equity-oriented, and really has potential to transform practice.”