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Originally published Monday, October 29, 2012 at 9:29 PM

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Apprentice program to train new Seattle teachers

Some teachers in Seattle will soon be trained like medical residents, with substantial on-the-job training under the supervision of a trained mentor. Four organizations, including the Seattle teachers union, are together designing the new program, which will start next summer.

Seattle Times education reporter

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Starting next summer, Seattle will join a dozen other U.S. cities that train some of its teachers similar to the way hospitals teach medical residents, with significant on-the-job learning alongside experienced mentors.

Seattle Public Schools and three partners — the University of Washington, the nonprofit Alliance for Education and the city's teachers union — will recruit 25 people for the new program, which will include university coursework as well as the classroom apprenticeship.

Many details are still under discussion, but the program likely will focus on preparing participants to teach classes for special-education students and students who are learning English. Those are jobs Seattle Public Schools has difficulty filling.

Teacher residencies in other cities focus on other subjects, but they all tailor their programs to fit the needs of their districts.

Residencies include more on-the-job training than most prospective teachers receive at universities or in programs such as Teach for America, the high-profile national organization that places recent college graduates in classrooms of their own after just five weeks of summer training.

The first teacher residencies opened in 2001 in Chicago, followed by others in Boston and the Denver area. In all three places, the programs grew out of frustration over many new teachers being ill-equipped for the challenges of urban classrooms.

The extra training has helped those districts retain new teachers longer, said Anissa Listak, executive director of Urban Teacher Residency United, a nonprofit network helping the Seattle partners develop their program.

While half of new teachers in urban districts leave within five years, Listak said, the retention rate for urban-residency programs is 85 percent.

The idea behind the residency model, she said, "is that you're learning how to be a teacher in an environment that's safe and can help you nurture your skills."

The Seattle Education Association's role as a full partner in the program is a first, she added.

The union sees the residency program as an opportunity for Seattle teachers to help shape the future of their profession.

"For too long, educators' voice about the profession has been ignored," said Jonathan Knapp, the union's president.

The teacher-residency model, he added, "is the way we believe teacher preparation should go."

Knapp also hopes the program will create a new source of teachers for Seattle schools and help diversify the district's largely white workforce.

The fact that participants will get a stipend during their residency year, he said, may attract people who couldn't otherwise afford to get a teaching degree.

Marni Campbell, an interim assistant superintendent for teaching and learning, also likes the fact that the program's mentors will be well prepared. In many teacher-preparation programs, veterans who work with student teachers are not trained to be mentors.

Teaching residents can be recent college graduates or older career-changers. They will earn an initial teaching certificate, then likely start working as classroom teachers as they finish the coursework they need to teach special-education students or English-language learners. They likely will be required to work in Seattle for several years after their residencies end.

Tom Stritikus dean of the UW College of Education, said the new program is one more way the university is working with school districts to train high-quality teachers.

Students in the UW's regular teacher-training programs also spend a lot of time in schools, he said, but the residency program will go beyond that.

The UW also provides training for the Teach for America program, which has been controversial because its participants start teaching while working to earn a credential.

The Seattle teachers union, among others, opposes that way of training teachers.

The union and the university are working together on this latest project.

The details of who will pay for it, and how much, are still being worked out. The Alliance for Education is working on getting donations to help.

The program expects to start recruiting participants in January, said program director Marisa Bier.

Linda Shaw: 206-464-2359 or lshaw@seattletimes.com

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