The Need for Expansion of Teacher Residency Programs in Memphis

Posted on April 1, 2014


By Breanna Sommers

1294354039-scs_logo_newWhat happens when America’s top college graduates are placed in Memphis’ most impoverished urban socioeconomic and educational areas? Teachers who participate in ineffective teacher residency and training programs contribute to an urban student’s low quality of education. Inequality in teaching affects graduation and drop out rates in addition to other statistics. When an urban population is poorly educated, the citizens are less aware of choices and opportunities in their city. Teachers from residency and fellowship programs are often parachuted into their areas and not acclimated to the environment. Students who are accepted into programs like Teach for America are often top ranking college graduates from affluent backgrounds. Because they are so highly qualified and are under exposed to poverty, many not fully understand their clientele: impoverished students.

Once, these students are placed into Memphis’ most needed areas, many are so drained that few can continue in low poverty schools. The American Association of Educators reported that Phi Delta Kappa, or the honor society for educators, completed a study finding that after the fourth year of teaching in an impoverished area, only 14.8 percent of TFA participants continued in the low-income school they were hired for when they joined the program. This extremely low retention rate suggest teacher residency programs have difficulty building life long humanitarians that have the stamina and support to stay in such a difficult areas. Teacher effectiveness is a top contributor to student performance. A teacher only knows how to teach by what they themselves were taught. Charter schools like Aspire in Memphis want their teachers to complete a one-year shadow residency while receiving $13,500 for the year. While many praise the idea for strengthened teacher education, I wonder how many Memphian graduates would be willing to do this after they spent four years and a significant amount of money on their education. With only three charter schools in Memphis in 2003 and 41 as of 2013, Memphis is now in the spotlight and has been deemed by some as “Teacher Town, U.S.A.” Memphis is in a unique position as a transitional metropolitan area with dedicated community members working towards educational reform. This responsibility should not be taken lightly. Options are needed and graduates dedicated to service should be channeled into our county schools.

The Shelby County School Board also has the opportunity to evaluate and possibly alter current teaching practice as education is rapidly changing. Many eyes are on education in Memphis because of the merger that became official in 2013 between Memphis City Schools and the Shelby County School District. The city should use this newfound scope of power to develop new ideas and funding into teacher residency programs. Memphis’ position as the central location of the Mid-South area will contribute to how surrounding city school boards make decisions. The most pivotal aspect to consider when discussing teacher residency programs is their potential to build in Memphis. Our city’s future in education is dependent on a community that is invested in progress. High achieving and motivated students can propel our education system through their dedication and innovation. They should be seen as a valuable member to the solution and it is Memphis’ job as a community to support their originality and help them see all the benefits this unique city has to offer.

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Breanna Sommers is a freshman at Rhodes College.

Posted in: Education