CLEMSON — The Clemson University board of trustees has approved the College of Education’s initial plans to introduce South Carolina’s first university-led teacher residency program. Teacher residencies are a research-based method to increase teacher retention and preparedness as well as student achievement.

The program will be housed in the College of Education’s Eugene T. Moore School of Education and is made possible by a gift from Darla Moore, whose father, the school’s namesake, had a distinguished career as a teacher, coach and principal in Lake City, South Carolina. The Moore family’s $10 million endowment will make the school’s pilot program possible in seven Upstate districts and the funds will continue to support and ensure the residency program’s success in the future.

Moore said she was immediately impressed with the College of Education’s approach to addressing state educational issues through the teacher residency program. She looks forward to seeing the impact the program and the Eugene T. Moore School of Education will have on a problem that touches everyone in South Carolina.

“This residency program will not only provide a meaningful experience for future teachers and better prepare them for careers in education, it will also have a pronounced effect on generations of children across our state,” Moore said. “Clemson sees what changes need to be made and how to get there; this program is a concrete step in that direction.”

Planning an innovative approach

At the heart of the residency program is the college’s combined degree option for undergraduate education students. This degree option replaces student teaching in a student’s final undergraduate semester with graduate education classes, and the following year is comprised of a year-round teacher residency. The residency program will see its graduates emerge after five years with both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in education as well as an extended, year-long student teaching experience.

The innovative program was recently approved by the South Carolina State Board of Education and the South Carolina Commission on Higher Education. According to George J. Petersen, founding dean of the College of Education, this degree option better prepares teachers and falls in line with the most successful efforts at educational reform to prepare and retain classroom-ready teachers.

College leaders have spent more than a year planning the college’s approach and development of the teacher residency program. Research pointed to extended teacher residencies as a successful approach to addressing many issues the state’s educational system currently faces. Petersen said the development of an Upstate pilot program is only the first step in a campaign he hopes to expand to the Lowcountry and across the state.

“The benefits to a program like this cannot be overstated, but we also understand that there are challenges to getting something this ambitious off the ground,” Petersen said. “The pilot program that the Moore family is making possible will allow us to sidestep many logistical challenges so we can focus on perfecting this one-of-a-kind program in our state.”

Issues related to teacher attrition and lacking student outcomes are pronounced in lower parts of the state, but they aren’t exclusive to the Lowcountry. The state’s teacher shortfall saw 481 teaching vacancies at the start of the 2016-2017 school year.

Those numbers aren’t getting better and they are compounded by high teacher turnover, which causes a host of problems for schools across the state. In addition to being expensive, it causes a loss of institutional knowledge, school capacity building and consistent teamwork among teachers across grade levels.

Research into what works

Petersen and college faculty knew they couldn’t devise a plan of attack for these problems in a vacuum; they sought out other residency programs across the country that have demonstrated success. Petersen found such a program in his home state at California State University, Los Angeles.

Cal State LA faculty recently met with their eighth cohort of residency students. Mary Falvey, professor of special education, said the program was designed to address a shortage of qualified math, science and special education teachers, but they found the program did so much more for students. Instead of the snapshot provided by traditional student teaching, students in residency get the whole picture.

“Residency starts on the first day and ends when the school year is over,” Falvey said. “We realized students benefitted from this intensive experience; they build the classroom, build relationships with students and the community. It’s an obvious advantage over traditional student teaching.”

The university runs its program with the Los Angeles Unified School District, the second largest in the U.S. Falvey said a healthy, open relationship between participating districts and the university is crucial because the bulk of training comes from the classroom. Districts have come to appreciate the program because it allows teachers to essentially split their classes thanks to teacher residents, the “extra pair of eyes and hands.”

Falvey said the numbers related to the program’s impact speak for themselves; teacher retention was up to 90 percent over three years, much higher than that of a traditional program. Students say the program is intense, but they feel more capable and less likely to “fall apart.” They say they’re seen as a partner and part of the teaching staff during residency.

“It’s all about confidence and that confidence level is much higher after completing a residency program,” Falvey said. “If anything, we now have veteran teachers who see residents and ask, ‘Why didn’t they have that when I was starting out?’”

Monitoring progress

Jeff Marshall, chair of Clemson’s teaching and learning department, would like to see a similar reaction from host teachers and districts once Clemson’s first cohort of residents reaches classrooms. However, there’s still a great deal of work to complete over the next year.

Marshall said college leaders and district representatives have had discussions and are planning to establish a steering committee that will meet throughout regularly to plan all aspects of the program. As part of this planning process, the college and partner school districts will establish a Master Teacher Institute while fleshing out the master teacher selection process and the teacher resident-school district matching process.

The committee will also develop an approach to research and ongoing evaluation of the program. Faculty plan to compare the performance level and retention rate of students after completion of the traditional program and the students completing the teacher residency program. Faculty also plan to collect data on teacher performance and student learning.

“The faculty and districts don’t want to just hope this will make a difference,” Marshall said. “We want to be able to measure this program’s impact so we have hard data that shows we’re making a positive impact for teachers and, more importantly, for students.”