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Clinically Rich Programs in New York: Urban Teacher Residency at the American Museum of Natural History

Children visiting science museum

Photo Credit: Denis Finnin, AMNH

This article is part of a series on clinically rich teacher preparation in New York State, coordinated by Prepared To Teach at Bank Street College. The text is adapted from their latest report, Making Teacher Preparation Policy Work: Lessons From and For New York, and shared by the featured institution.

The American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) may be most well-known for its long history of scientific research, and for its expansive galleries featuring casts of dinosaurs, or dioramas from around the world, and the 94-foot long Blue Whale suspended in the Hall of Ocean Life. However, for just as long as the museum has been engaged in educating the public about scientific phenomena through visits, the museum has been supporting teachers and teaching. Since just after the museum opened in 1880, the museum offered lecture courses for teachers, broadening offerings by the 1920s. In the late 1930s, the museum offered a preparation program for teachers interested in using out-of-school learning experiences in their classrooms. Today, the museum offers a wide range of professional development opportunities for teachers in science, as well as works in partnership with cultural institutions around the city to support science teacher development.   

It was not suprising for the museum to consider offering a targeted and context-specific teacher education program that could help serve a specific need in the city of New York. Recruiting, preparing and retaining STEM teachers is extremely challenging for most schools and districts across the country—New York City being no different. New York City has long faced shortages of qualified math and science teachers, and current data suggests that almost 10% are teaching out of their certification areas. To help support that targeted need, in 2011, AMNH stepped up to leverage its resources and unique place in the City’s educational landscape, launching its clinically-focused teacher preparation program for Earth Science teachers.

“We wanted to create a program that addressed the shortage of middle and high school Earth Science teachers and embodied AMNH’s mission of research, education, and the dissemination of knowledge about the natural world,” says Maritza MacDonald, senior director of education and policy emeritus. The educators and scientists at AMNH set out to establish a program that would use the museum’s resources to increase access to high-quality preparation for aspiring educators. The result was the American Museum of Natural History Richard Gilder Graduate School’s Earth Science Residency Program—the only museum-based residency model for teacher preparation in the world.

Residents receive a full scholarship and $30,000 stipend along with a laptop, books, and certification fees—support made possible by federal grants and private funding. Each of the fifteen residents complete 10 months in high-needs secondary schools in NYC and Yonkers, and two museum-based summer residencies working with AMNH’s youth programs and undertaking laboratory and field-based investigations. Graduates receive a Master of Arts in Teaching degree and participate in two years of induction as they transition into their careers.

Each mentor teacher in the program is prepared through Mentor Academy—6 days of professional learning throughout the school year, co-facilitated by faculty and experienced school mentors. Mentors benefit from monthly professional learning and access to stipends, resources, and materials. Partner schools provide residents with a range of experiences including teaching special education and ENL populations. Principals and faculty collaborate to identify qualified mentors and determine residency placements. Principals also contribute to decision-making, for example, by sitting as members on the program’s academic oversight body.

Partner schools benefit not only from residents in classrooms during residency, but also from a pipeline of committed educators interested in continuing relationships—alumni have been hired by partner schools and serve as mentors for current residents. Research on retention of AMNH graduates teaching in NYC say the residency and their cohort bond have helped them work through challenges in the classroom and persist in the profession. Many graduates bring students on field trips to AMNH multiple times each year, where they reconnect with faculty and share their insight into the Museum’s exhibits. Research using data from the NYCDOE finds that schools where MAT graduates teach have seen an increase in the number of students taking the Earth Science Regents, and that a higher percentage of students taught by AMNH RGGS MAT teachers take the Earth Science Regents, compared to their peers.

The specific incentives and residency model help recruit diverse candidates— approximately 31% people of color, 41% male, and 33% career changers or veterans. Of the first three cohorts, 94% stayed in teaching for 3 or more years and of those, all were in New York State and 94% were in high-needs schools. “We believe in the power and potential of informal science education,” says MacDonald. “Institutions that are already dedicated to research and education can play an important role in addressing the need for qualified science teachers and strengthening the formal role of science-based cultural institutions in science education.”

If you’re interested in learning more about the museum’s Urban Teacher Residency, you can visit the website.

Karen Hammerness, Ph.D., is the director of educational research and evaluation at the American Museum of Natural History.


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