Rob DeHaas and Elizabeth Kastiel saw the benefits of teacher-residency programs at a charter school in Chicago. Then, they helped launch Uplift Heights Primary School in West Dallas. As it came time to hire teachers, one question came to mind.
“Where are the teacher-residency programs?” said DeHaas, co-founder and CEO of Dallas Teacher Residency. “There weren’t any. That was four years ago, and that’s really how the idea stemmed.”
The pair introduced DTR to Dallas ISD in 2013, providing skills for success in the classroom, specifically in an urban district. Their teachers gain field experiences, making them more equipped on day one.
HOW IT WORKS: Residents intern under a DISD teacher four days a week for a full academic year. Simultaneously, they study for their master’s at the University of North Texas at Dallas during the evenings and weekends for 14 months.
DTR supports teachers in an environment where resources can be scarce. Urban students face a learning gap compared to suburban counterparts. DeHaas said afterschool care is a great tool, but a child is only in front of a teacher eight hours a day, so the way to close that gap starts with excellent teachers.
“In DISD, there’s about 50 percent [of teachers] quitting every three years,” DeHaas said. “A lot of teachers cite isolation, lack of professionalism, and lack of support as the main reasons. We try to eliminate those variables.”
It starts with a 14-month apprenticeship patterned after a medical residency model. Individuals train under a mentor-teacher in the district where they will teach.
The organization also partners with a university where teaching residents, as they’re called, devote one day of the week toward graduate coursework. The rest of the week is spent in the field. Teaching residents walk away with a master’s degree, teacher certification, a year of experience in an urban classroom, and a full-time teaching position in DISD.
“Teaching in large, urban districts is night and day from teaching in suburban districts,” DeHaas said. “It’s a no-brainer hiring these teachers [who] have already spent time training in these urban schools thanks to teacher residency.”
DeHaas said they look for individuals who have a passion for serving in urban districts — like Kalen Lewis.
Lewis, a Garland native, is the product of an urban district. He attended high school with students from a lower socioeconomic status, including himself. He experienced difficulties often associated with urban public schools. Going to SMU, then, was eye opening.
“I worked with people who went to Hockaday, St. Mark’s, the best high schools in the country,” Lewis said. “Their experiences [were] completely different. I spent a lot of time looking at data … that’s what really drove me to education.”
Last fall Lewis began his residency with DTR, which allowed him to impact students whose shoes he was once in. One particular student stood out — he didn’t have a behavior problem and he wasn’t disrespectful, but he barely spoke. Lewis’ challenge was getting the student to take something out of his education.
“He wasn’t on the grade level with his reading, and he did not like speaking in the class because he had a really thick accent,” Lewis said. “If I circled back and sort of sat with him … I could get a lot out of him.”
The more Lewis worked with this student, the more willing he was to participate in assignments. That was a proud feat for Lewis — one that showed him how rewarding his career would be.
These stories make DeHaas and Kastiel proud.
“Good teachers understand that students have the desire and ability to learn. No student goes to school thinking, ‘Today I want to fail,’” DeHaas said. “Students often go to school unable to relate the material in a context that makes sense to them. To be able to effectively [connect] as a teacher takes training and support.”
DTR’s first class started in fall 2014 with six teaching residents. Lewis embarks on his first teaching year at North Dallas High School this fall. He admits he’s worried but ready for whatever challenges he may face.