Urban Teacher Residency Program Brings Change to Newark Schools

Photo: Mike Peters

Residents Rosie Lesperance (left) and Cristina Morales listen to a student.

When Rosiane Lesperance ’11 MA began her career as a biology teacher at East Side High School in Newark this September, she wasn’t the new kid on the block. She already knew her way around the school, she’s worked side by side with her teaching colleagues, and she has a sense of belonging within the Newark community.

“As a first-year teacher, I know it’s going to be challenging. But because I’ve already been a part of the school for a full year as a resident teacher, I’m going to bring a level of confidence and knowledge to the classroom environment from day one,” she says.

In a competitive job market, university programs that immerse students in real-world learning can provide a valuable leg up when it comes to employment opportunities. The Newark-Montclair Urban Teacher Residency Program (NMUTR) goes a step further. This innovative, apprenticeship-based program is designed both to provide an educational program for graduate students deeply committed to urban teaching and to meet the staffing needs of an urban school district.

The attrition rate of new teachers is a significant problem in urban districts, with nearly 50 percent of teachers leaving within the first three years in certain schools.

“Teacher consistency and commitment within a school is vital to closing the academic achievement gap,” explains Jennifer J. Robinson, director of the Center of Pedagogy at Montclair State University. “By immersing graduate students in the life of the school and fully preparing them for the challenges and commitment required, first year teachers hit the ground running, making fewer mistakes and having a greater impact in the classroom right from the start. The result is a positive and fulfilling experience for both teacher and student.”

Residencies: Not just for doctors

Using the traditional medical residency as a model, NMUTR partners graduate education students with highly qualified mentor teachers who are experienced in the residents’ areas of certification (elementary, mathematics, science, and special education) in an urban setting. The program provides full Montclair State tuition and fees plus a living stipend to all candidates. Mentors also receive professional development support from the University.

Residents simultaneously engage in rigorous coursework integrated with the clinical apprenticeship, through which they receive a master’s degree and teacher certification. Upon successful completion of the masters programs, candidates are given preferential advancement in the hiring process by the Newark Public Schools and receive induction support through the NMUTR program for a minimum of two years after they complete the residency program. This induction support is also being made available to all new teachers in the Newark Public Schools, regardless of participation in the residency program.

The first cohort of students graduated in August 2011. All 12 have been offered teaching positions in the Newark school district.

Choosing to teach

Getting accepted into the NMUTR program requires both strong academic credentials and a passion for urban education. According to Susan Wray, associate professor of Early Childhood, Elementary Education, and Literacy Education, and lead faculty member for the early childhood/elementary strand of the grant, “We look for students who not only bring a love of learning and teaching to the program, but who have a deep commitment to teaching in urban schools, specifically Newark Public Schools.”

Lesperance came up through the Irvington school system, graduating third in her class. When she got to Rutgers as a college freshman, however, her sense of academic leadership quickly faded.

“I was like, what is this?” she recalls. “Why do these kids know things that I don’t? We all went to school in New Jersey.”

That disparity stayed with her even after she was admitted to the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey with the goal of becoming a dentist. Lesperance eventually decided her true calling was to teach. She believed she could have the biggest impact in an urban setting, leading her to Montclair State’s residency program.

Elevated by education

As Lesperance tells it, the NMUTR program has completely transformed her, giving her a clear perspective on how she wants to impact the world.

“I look at the world differently now,” she says. “It is my duty as a teacher to provide as many children as possible with the opportunity to live life to the fullest, and I believe knowledge and a sense of community can help them achieve that goal. Without being educated, you can’t be elevated.”

And her professors and mentors wish her the best this school year. “Rosie sees herself as part of a community,” says Robinson. “As an experienced teacher, she now has the ability to influence students and make a difference in Newark.”