‘Third Space’ Urban Teacher Residency Offers Transformative Lessons

Last month, AACTE held a briefing in Washington, DC, on the Teacher Quality Partnership grant program. Titled “Investing in Solutions,” the briefing featured several grant recipients from New Jersey, North Carolina, and Virginia in order to showcase the program to congressional staff and members of the higher education community. One of the featured grantees, New Jersey’s Newark-Montclair Urban Teacher Residency (NMUTR), shared lessons and best practices published in the recent book A Year in the Life of a Third Space Urban Teacher Residency: Using Inquiry to Reinvent Teacher Education. I invited the book’s authors, Monica Taylor and Emily J. Klein of Montclair State University, to highlight some of these lessons for Ed Prep Matters:

Monica Taylor
Emily J. Klein

As we grappled with the design and implementation of the secondary math/science cohort of the NMUTR, we felt tremendous pressure to get it right. Recent local policies had doubled the fieldwork requirement for preservice teachers. Traditional teacher education programs were being critiqued for having too much theory and not enough practice, but we also knew the theoretical components were important.

We didn’t disagree that a semester of student teaching was inadequate. And yet we also knew that adding time in the field, in and of itself, was not a panacea. Learning to teach, like learning to do anything, takes more than just time. What should a 1-year intensive field-based program look like, we wondered, and how should we bridge the gap from theory to practice and back to theory again?

What we arrived at, with the support of a 5-year Teacher Quality Partnership grant from the U.S. Department of Education, was a new entity where the NMUTR partners and participants could bridge these gaps together. We designed our secondary math/science cohort to be a “third space” that tapped the expertise of university, school, and community organization partners. We created a new space where residents, mentor teachers, faculty, and students contributed and were also invited to learn. It sounds simple, but including everyone’s voices was challenging and required constant communication, negotiation, and reflection.

As we reflect back, we note four key lessons worth sharing:

  • Theory matters. Theory provides an important lens on practice, giving us a way to make sense of teaching and learning. Learning about constructivism, inquiry, and teaching for social justice, for example, can help residents learn to teach more effectively when coupled with practice and reflection.
  • Teacher education is not a linear process. Developing one’s teaching practice is a recursive experience. It builds in a spiral as residents explore concepts in cycles and have opportunities to apply theory to practice, receive feedback, examine data, reflect, and adjust their teaching.
  • Preservice teachers need experiences with kids outside of school. New teachers need to understand the communities students come from, who they are in multiple contexts, and what learning looks like outside of a classroom. Our residency accomplished this through summer internships in community organizations.
  • Authentic partnerships with administrators and mentor teachers. To disrupt the traditional hierarchy dividing faculty, teachers, and administrators, we engaged in self-study and action research, where everyone experienced vulnerability but also had opportunities to be critical friends.

If we can engage new and developing teachers in a spiral curriculum, help them see children in authentic environments, and build learning communities within schools, we will transform the field.

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Deborah Koolbeck

Senior Director of Government Relations, AACTE