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Bethany Poon works with Jaylen McMillan, 7, and is a teacher resident in Seattle Public Schools. She is co-teaching kindergarten-first-graders. / Scott Eklund/Red Box Pictures for USA TODAY

SEATTLE - No, Bethany Poon does not have an extra set of eyes, ears and hands. Yet somehow, in a matter of moments, she is helping two first-graders get started at a computer station, showing another group an easy way to add two numbers when one is nine, and complimenting two students, one for doing a "great job of saying 'excuse me' " and another for sitting attentively and being ready to learn.

It's all part of a day's work at Leschi School,where Poon, 23, a graduate student in the University of Washington College of Education, is learning about classroom realities in a way that many aspiring teachers don't - until they start their first job.

She is there as part of the Seattle Teacher Residency, a recently launched initiative that local school officials hope will attract good teacher candidates to some of the district's most challenging public schools, and keep them there.

It's one of about 50 teacher-preparation programs springing up in the last several years that are modeled after medical education. Just as future doctors, called "residents," care for patients under the supervision of a practicing physician, graduate students such as Poon work side by side with a seasoned teacher. They help plan and deliver lessons and pick up classroom management tricks best learned by seeing and doing.

In traditional teacher-education programs, student teachers typically get hands-on experience only later in their studies, after they have completed college coursework.

"That is a huge paradigm shift," says Anissa Listak, founder of Urban Teacher Residency United, a non-profit organization based in Chicago that supports a network of 18 residency programs, including Seattle's. Since it was founded in 2007, the group has grown from three, in Boston, Chicago and Denver, to 18, and more programs are in the works, she says.

The movement got a boost in 2009 and 2010 when the U.S. Education Department awarded five-year grants for programs to improve teacher education. Of particular concern: National surveys show that just half of teacher candidates received supervised clinical training and nearly two-thirds said they felt unprepared for "classroom realities."

In Seattle, administrators hope the program will prepare a steady stream of talented idealists to work in schools in which many kids face challenges such as homelessness, hunger and violence. Teacher turnover tends to be highest at those schools.

"We want teachers who want to come here," says Mary McDaniel, principal at Madrona elementary, another Seattle school where residents work.

Not all residency initiatives succeed. A few years ago, a promising program in Pittsburgh was scuttled, a victim of several factors, including a loss of union support. Listak expects some programs to end when federal grant money runs out.

Seattle's program offers renewed promise, she says, because the local teachers union and the University of Washington College of Education were active in developing it. Both are founding partners, along with the school district and the Alliance for Education, a non-profit organization that coordinates fundraising and other tasks.

Still, some Seattle partners are cautious in their praise of the residency model. "It's a good experiment (but it's) not for everybody," says Patrick Sexton, managing director of teacher education at the University of Washington College of Education.

It's also expensive. This year's 25 residents each receive a $16,500 stipend, plus tuition reimbursement and other benefits, and their mentor teachers receive $3,500. Expenses are estimated at about $1 million.

Organizers say better retention will cut the cost of recruiting teachers - estimated in one study at $10.6 million a year for Seattle Public Schools. According to the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future, 46% of public school teachers leave the profession within their first five years; in contrast, some of the longest-running urban residency programs post an average five-year retention rate of 82%, data from Urban Teacher Residency United show.

In Seattle, teacher residents promise to teach at least five years in the public schools. That's fine with Sabrina Adikes, 23, a teacher resident in Madrona.

Some days are hard, she says, but it's also rewarding work. "It probably sounds cheesy, but I am grateful for the relationships that have come from this work. I feel truly connected with my students, who are so hardworking and so kind to one another, as well as to me."



Copyright 2014 USATODAY.com

Read the original story: Aspiring teachers learn alongside dedicated mentors

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