Memphis Teacher Residency prepares students for success

With achievement gaps hovering over Memphis, local faith-based Memphis Teacher Residency is hoping to improve several high-needs schools by recruiting teachers to cut their teeth in area classrooms.

Once trained, the hope is teachers will choose to remain in the district. Ninety percent of MTR teachers stay at least one more year past their residency requirement.

“There are teacher needs in the city and we want to provide effective education for students in Memphis to meet achievement gaps. The district is hungry for quality educators so where these needs exist we hope to step in the gap,” said Hayley Moore, Development Director.

To improve education outcomes in Memphis, MTR offers two programs. The first is the teacher residency program.

“We follow a residency model. So, you spend your first year training – doing a deep dive in coursework getting a Master of Urban Education degree. You spend Monday to Thursday in a classroom under the leadership of a mentor-teacher. Then on Friday and Saturday, a resident works on their Masters degree. So, it’s the pairing of coursework with practice for an entire year before you are a teacher of record in your own classroom,” said Moore. The post-graduate work is done at Union University.

The student achievement gap in Memphis is larger than 70 percent of major cities in the US. However, it has narrowed by 19 percent between 2011 and 2014, according to a 2016 study.

The current class has 59 residents. Nearly 300 teachers and leaders are employed at 36 feeder-pattern partner schools. Among the six high-needs neighborhoods served are Binghampton, Orange Mound and Frayser.

Residents of Memphis Teacher Residency spend a school year in the classroom with a mentor-teacher getting hand-on training.

A feeder pattern is the flow of schools a student graduates through during their education. For instance, a student at Snowden Middle School will generally advance to Central High.

Teachers are placed in these specific neighborhoods in a concentrated effort to affect change as a child ages through high school.

“The hope is that over time that translates into higher level change in a department, school and neighborhood. This is why we use the neighborhood feeder pattern approach,” said Molly Nied, Director of Education.higher level change in a department, school and neighborhood. This is why we use the neighborhood feeder pattern approach,” said Molly Nied, Director of Education.

Recent teacher evaluations conducted by Shelby County Schools show the teachers are having a positive effect on student achievement.

The report stated that “MTR teachers on the whole exhibited above-average effectiveness and outscored their non-MTR counterparts on two powerful measures of teaching effectiveness: TVAAS [Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System] and TEM [Teacher Effectiveness Measure],” scoring 4 in both areas out of a 5-point scale.

Teacher retention rates are up too. Ninety-three percent of the teacher residency program completed their three-year teaching requirement from 2010 to 2014. Only 41 percent of Tennessee’s new teachers met that standard in 2014.

The program has shown a pattern of sustained success. A 2016 MTR report stated 85 percent of residents had completed the for the year-long residency program since its inception.

Further affirmation was provided by a Teach901 survey released in January. The local teacher recruitment initiative gave Memphis Teacher Residency the state's highest rating for the fourth consecutive year. Nearly half of the 900 teachers surveyed had been trained in state. The participants in the survey came from 45 “priority schools” with test scores in the bottom 5 percent statewide.

Founded in 2008, the non-profit doesn’t proselytize. Residents aren’t expected to be Christian either. The mission is education for all, an effort that has its roots in the Civil Rights movement.

Desegregation during the 1950s and 1960s compelled the introduction of black students into the American public education system. The busing policies during the 1970s took the idea a step further. Affirmative action, with its all-things-being-equal go with the minority approach, was codified to address disparities in higher education and workplace hiring.

To a degree, they were successful – a student can attend any public school, so long as they are in district.

The resident class of 2018 for Memphis Teacher Residency gathered outside their office in the Crosstown Concourse.

A quick look at the achievement gap shows these policies didn’t go far enough. Poor, underserved districts often round out the bottom statistically achievement-wise. Opportunities for students from these areas are scant. Meanwhile, more affluent districts thrive.

It’s a problem that MTR executive director David Montague has been working on for a while. Before his current post, He worked at the Poplar Foundation, which provides funding for education initiatives in Memphis.

During this time, teacher residency programs were in their infancy. After arranging a meeting with the National Center for Teacher Residency, he visited programs in Boston, Denver and Chicago.

“The thinking was instead of the creation of additional schools, we could have impact in existing schools. And that would be a way to bring equal education across the city, reaching every kid in classrooms where they are already at,” said Nied.

It’s a concept rooted in the long-held standard of the medical residency, which also has an extended apprenticeship.

“The history of the residency model and even the term was borrowed from the medical community. The way doctors are trained is with a hands-on, guided approach and education should be valued as a challenging profession that needs the same kind of hands-on training,” she added.

The model has caught on. There are 25 education residency models nationally. Memphis was only the fourth such program in the nation when it launched its first cohort in 2009.

One recent college graduate who’s taking advantage of the program is Amani Alexander.

Since earning his bachelors’ degree at Morehouse College, he began work on the 2017 to 2018 school year June 1. After a summer spent studying the cultural foundations, history, and inequalities of Memphis, he started his mentorship.

“So how it works is I am in the classroom with a mentor-teacher, who happens to be a graduate of the MTR program, and I have a plan that sets out what I’m supposed to do each week as far as teaching responsibilities,” said Alexander.

Observation comes first. After a while, morning duties, taking attendance and teaching lessons are taken on. By the end of the year, the residents lead the classroom.

“We don’t just jump headfirst into it but follow a strategic plan as not to overwhelm residents, because there are residents who have never had teaching experience,” said Alexander. “But we are getting into the thick of it all now. I am inside the classroom at Treadwell Elementary with my mentor-teacher for fourth grade math and taking graduate courses on Friday and Saturday.”

Residents of Memphis Teacher Residency spend a school year in the classroom with a mentor-teacher getting hand-on training.

After completing the program, MTR helps graduates find their first teaching jobs.

“We have a staffing manager that works with all of our residents to secure jobs,” said Nied. “We work with providers in our target neighborhoods. It could be SCS, charter or ASD. Essentially, whatever path a child takes from K-12, we are trying to be a part of it.”

To drum up residents, a recruitment team is sent to college campuses, conferences and camps. Current residents also make a pitch to interested students at their alma maters.

“I’m going back to Morehouse in Atlanta. I graduated in May, so I am excited to go back to find good teachers. I am most excited to speak to a group I started called ‘Black Educators Club’ about the possibility of coming to Memphis to teach,” said Alexander.

Exposure is part of the recruitment strategy too.

Another program making an impact is the MTR Summer Camp.

Started in 2013, it provides academic enrichment to first through fourth graders. It is designed to curb student regression during the extended vacation. Much of the focus is on math and reading skills, with enrichment in the afternoons. The camp is open to students of partner schools.

“It was hands down one of the best experiences I’ve ever had,” said Alexander. “We did a theater enrichment where students put on a play for parents at the end of the camp. It’s a great experience for students to continue to learn while having fun,” said Alexander.

The camp also gives undergrads an idea of what it is like to teach in a high-needs school.

“I just loved it. It was the first time in my life I felt called to something. To see the faces of kids when they learn something really struck me and I said ‘I’ve got to do this,’” said Alexander.

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Read more articles by Kim and Jim Coleman.

Kim Coleman is a journalist with over 20 years of experience in newsrooms as a reporter, editor and graphic designer, including ten years with The Commercial Appeal as Design Director/Senior Editor and Print Planning Editor. 


Jim Coleman is a freelance writer, covering a variety of topics from high school sports, community news and small business. He has written for different news organizations over the past 20 years, including The Commercial Appeal, Community Weeklies, Lexington Herald-Leader and The Albuquerque Journal.