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“The start of something big”

When most students attend a university to get a medical, nursing, or pharmacy degree, they typically participate in a residency program. So it should come as no surprise to hear that Universities around the country are now testing similar programs for teachers.

Over the next several years, Dr. Ben Burnett, of Williams Carey University, will be piloting a teacher residency program in South Mississippi.

Dr. Ben Burnett. Dean, School of Education, William Carey University

“Doesn’t it make sense that somebody taking care of our children would go out and do a residency within the school building and see what that’s like?” says Burnett.

Burnett knows that a teacher residency program won’t just better prepare future teachers; he believes it will improve teacher retention.

He says the nation is down 35% in undergraduate teacher education over the last decade. But this year WCU is experiencing a 25% spike.

“We’re hoping to be on the start of something big.”

With the teacher shortage the way it is in Mississippi and throughout the country. Burnett is optimistic that better training could help combat the national teacher shortage.

“Even if we don’t produce more teachers, which I hope we’ll do. We’ll have better retention,” says Burnett.

When do undergrads move to the classroom?

Students can apply for the residency once they’ve completed two years of course work. The undergraduates at WCU are integrated into two participating school districts on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

The program at WCU is in conjunction with the Mississippi Department of Education and funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

The residency offers two major selling points for students.

  1. Students get their foot in the door at a solid school district
  2. The grant from the Kellogg foundation covers their tuition for two years

“That will also help the longevity of the teachers,” says Burnett. ” If you have a lot of outstanding student loans, it’s difficult to pay those back on a teachers salary.”

Burnett says students lined up to enroll in the program and they had somewhere between 200 and 300 applications.

Is the program sustainable?

Burnett knows the grant money may not be available forever, but he’s optimistic that the program is sustainable, with or without having the cost of tuition covered. He says that educating with residency programs allows for local school districts to “grow their own.”

As Dean of the School of Education at WCU, Burnett is putting serious thought into educating all teacher undergraduates with some form of a residency program.

“I think the future of teacher education needs to be less inside our buildings and more inside of a school,” says Burnett.

To learn more about the structure of the residency program, listen to Episode 115 of the Class Dismissed Podcast on your favorite podcast app or iTunes.

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