If you want to be a teacher, you can go to school and pay for your master’s in education. Or, you can make a 4-year commitment to teaching in Richmond Public Schools in exchange for a master’s degree through Virginia Commonwealth University, a practically-guaranteed job, and learning through doing.
It’s a unique approach -- there are only about 20 programs like it in the country. Now, the federal government is taking notice.
After a full day co-teaching with a mentor at a middle school in Richmond, Dana Lockhart spends her evenings in the classroom as well -- this time as the student.
“I’m usually in class until 7, or on Thursdays 10 -- and then on the days I don’t have class I’m doing homework for class," says Lockhart.
Lockhart is 33-year, and switching careers. VCU’s residency program is hard work, but she says she would rather put in that work now, than struggle alone her first year as a teacher.
“It’s kind of like an apprenticeship if you will, you learn the job by people who do the job well already," says Lockhart. "So, you can write a paper about something, but can you actually do it?"
The program also gives Richmond Public Schools a steady stream of teachers they know they can trust. It’s a model U.S. Secretary of Education John King would like to see more of.
“A residency model can produce both teachers that are better prepared and teachers who are more likely to stay in their schools,” says King.
As part of that effort, the Department of Education announced new requirements earlier this month that states submit data to the federal government on how their teacher-prep programs are doing: things like job placement rates and teacher evaluation results.
That data, King says, can help make the case that investments, like the federal grant that supports Richmond’s program, are worth it.