Fast-tracking dreams into reality: Urban Teacher Residency Program a ‘blessing’ for one of cohort’s first graduates

Contact: Deanne Puca

Koretta King-Jackson knew she had a passion for teaching when she occasionally stepped in to be a substitute at her local public elementary and charter schools.

“My heart was in it; I wanted to do it very badly, but I didn’t have the right credentials at the time,” she says.

When she landed a long-term substitute teaching position, she decided she wanted to change her career for good.

Securing a spot in Western’s inaugural Urban Teacher Residency Program helped her earn a master’s degree in elementary education this past summer. The program—a partnership between the University, Kalamazoo Public Schools and Benton Harbor Area Schools—offers financial and academic support for district employees like paraprofessionals, bus drivers, food service staff and custodians to earn their teacher certification while they continue working, developing a pipeline to fill the dire need for quality instructors in high-need areas.

Now a kindergarten teacher at the Discovery Enrichment Center in Benton Harbor, Michigan, King-Jackson says she achieved her dream job thanks to the support she received from Western.

“It was a lot of work; I would aim to be done at my job (at the school) at 4 p.m., and class started at 5 p.m. It’s a fast track, but I didn’t hesitate because I really wanted this,” King-Jackson says. “It’s a blessing. I encourage anyone who wants to be in education to go through this program.”

“Western's instructors were so patient, outgoing and willing to help. They appreciated and understood that we were in the classroom but working, also. They were flexible and committed to helping me succeed.”

King-Jackson was part of the first cohort of 25 students to graduate this summer from the Urban Teacher Residency Program, which carries a goal to increase the number of certified teachers in high-need areas by at least 90 and increase the three-year retention of certified teachers. Funded by a five-year, $4.9 million U.S. Department of Education grant, the program has also added an 18-month program for 15 select special education students to meet the high demand. This is in addition to the 12-month elementary education program now in its second year.

The program uses a teacher residency model that includes a clinical experience paired with the required coursework for certification. Students receive intensive coaching and feedback in their cohorts as they apply what they’re learning in the classroom. By design, the program mitigates some of the barriers that impede qualified candidates from pursuing a teaching career.

Students who recently completed the first year of the program said the experience was “intense but definitely worth it,” says Dr. Regena Fails Nelson, program director. This cycle, preparation for the Michigan Test for Teacher Certification will begin four months earlier to give students even more time to study the material, she adds.

“There is an adjustment for students as far as time management, but we’ve found a model that works for students who go through this program while working full time at a job,” Nelson says. “The response the first year has been very positive, with students saying it provides them a path they need to move from support positions to full-time teaching.”

For King-Jackson, her hard work was rewarded as soon as she returned to the Discovery Enrichment Center this fall—this time as a certified teacher.

“One of the administrators came right up to me and said how happy she was to see my smiling face in the building again. You know she appreciates that we went through the program and were willing to do the work,” she says. “I’m sure every teacher needs to hear that.”