Elizabeth De La Cruz hit an important milestone in her career: five years as a teacher.

Roughly half of new teachers quit before reaching that mark, U.S. Department of Education figures show. But not De La Cruz. 

She attributes her success to the teacher residency program at Texas Tech University. She earned a full year of paid experience teaching in Fort Worth ISD’s Richard J. Wilson Elementary before she had her bachelor’s degree.

“I 100% believe that if I had not done the teacher residency program that I would have left a lot sooner,” De La Cruz said. 

De La Cruz, who teaches a fifth-grade bilingual class at Wilson Elementary, illustrates how residencies better prepare future educators for the classroom and improve teacher retention, experts say. Supporters want the state Legislature to financially back residencies to offset costs to districts and to create a new class of teaching certificate — efforts they say could help chip away at the state’s long reported teacher shortage.

In a report issued Feb. 24, Gov. Greg Abbott’s teacher vacancy task force called for the creation and funding of a teacher residency pathway across the state as one of eight recommendations to turn around the state’s teacher shortage.

“With strong teacher preparation via a teacher residency model, a system could be built in which there were no more first-year teachers,” the report states.

House Bill 2358, filed Feb. 15, proposes the establishment of the Texas Teacher Residency Partnership Program along with a new certification and per teaching resident funding of at least $22,000. State Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston, wrote the bill.

Jonathan Feinstein is the Texas director for The Education Trust, a national nonprofit promoting high academic achievement for all students. Teacher residencies should show lawmakers one path toward improving the teacher workforce, he said.

“The most important thing is for state leaders to understand that the quality of preparation has a direct connection to the challenge they want to solve: retention,” Feinstein said. 

What are teacher residencies?

Students raise their hands to answer a teacher’s questions. (Cristian ArguetaSoto | Fort Worth Report)

Teacher residencies have been operating around the nation for more than two decades. They are similar to the more commonly known medical residencies that doctors must go through before they earn their license.

House Bill 2358

State Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston, recently introduced House Bill 2358. Here are the highlights of the measure:

  • The creation of the Texas Teacher Residency Program and defining parts of the initiative, such as resident and mentor teacher.
  • Sets requirements for school districts and charters to participate.
  • Establishes a new teacher certification called the residency educator certificate.
  • Tabs state dollars to fund the program. The bill sets the base amount at $22,000 and a maximum of $42,000. Districts may receive additional funding depending on several factors, such as being rural or high needs.

Texas introduced teacher residencies in 2013 through a law then-state Rep. Diane Patrick, R-Arlington, championed. 

The Texas Education Agency has 27 approved programs working with more than 90 school districts. An infusion of federal stimulus dollars during the COVID-19 pandemic expanded teacher residencies and provided short-term sustainability.

Districts receive $20,000 for each teacher resident up to a maximum of 20. Federal funds, though, will expire in 2024. 

Fort Worth ISD has teacher residents from Texas Tech and Tarleton State University.

Chris Sloan, an associate dean at Tarleton State University’s College of Education, is working with the TEA and lawmakers to beef up state support of teacher residencies.

“This program needs to be funded by legislation, especially now that we have a budget surplus,” Sloan said. “This go around would be the time to do it.”

Teacher residents more effective 

De La Cruz wasn’t sure if her heart was in teaching. Enrolling in a teacher residency was her way of testing her resolve. If all went right, De La Cruz would have the experience and tools to be a teacher once she graduated Tech. 

“I wanted to see the realities that teachers were facing today in the classroom,” she said. “Being in the classroom the entire year, I really got to see what went behind teaching.”

Sloan sees De La Cruz’s experience as the point of teacher residency programs.

Sloan was skeptical when he first learned of teacher residencies. He was used to students taking the traditional path of taking college courses, spending a few weeks as a student teacher, graduating and, shortly thereafter, landing a teaching job. 

Then he taught a course connected to a residency. Sloan described teachers who went through a residency as exponentially better prepared than those who didn’t.

“My standard for teacher preparation is that they would be allowed to teach my grandkids,” Sloan said. “I would guarantee any one of these teachers who graduate from our year-long residency to be a great teacher.”

The National Center for Teacher Residencies operates 46 programs in 26 states. Last year, the nonprofit surveyed principals who hired successful teacher residents and found that 92% reported graduates were more effective than typical first-year teachers. 

Texas Tech’s residency program has been operating for about a decade. Tech has found students of teacher residency graduates do better in math and reading.

Summer Learning program students and parents wait in the cafeteria on June 6 at M. H. Moore Elementary School, 1809 N.E. 36th St. (Cristian ArguetaSoto | Fort Worth Report)

‘Stop the bleed’

Feinstein, the state director for The Education Trust, has talked to principals across the state who make teacher residents a key piece of their talent pipeline. They want to keep those teachers because they already know the students and have the support to be a successful educator, he said.

However, Feinstein warned lawmakers cannot use teacher residencies as a one-size-fits-all solution to fix shortages.

National studies of teacher residency programs show graduates have high retention rates, according to the teacher vacancy task force.

The state’s attrition rate measures the number of teachers who left.

During the 2007-08 school year, Texas had an attrition rate of 9.58%, according to TEA. Two years later, the rate dropped to 8.59%.

The rate was almost 11.6% during the 2021-22 school year, the most recently available data.

However, Texas gained more than 47,000 teachers between 2008 and 2022. In the 2021-22 school year, the state had 370,431 teachers.

Sloan, the Tarleton dean, sees better preparing teachers as a good first step to alleviate shortages, especially for new teachers.

“That’s going to help stop the bleed,” Sloan said.

Student-teacher connection

Beyond building a better prepared teaching workforce, Sloan sees other advantages to teacher residencies. Programs like his could help make the state’s supply of teachers reflect students, he said.

More than one out of two students in Texas are Latino, according to TEA. Under a third of all teachers are Latino, though, and more than half of teachers are white.

“We’re trying to build in some diversity into the teaching ranks so that students get to have a teacher who looks like them,” Sloan said.

De La Cruz, a teacher residency graduate, knows how important it is to be able to connect with a teacher. She immigrated to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic when she was 8. Her family lived in New Jersey.

Sometimes they had an apartment. Other times they lived with a family member. The one constant? De La Cruz’s mom worked day and night to support her daughter. 

“I was an only child, so that definitely made it feel very lonely,” De La Cruz said. “I didn’t have anyone to talk to when things were happening, and she couldn’t help me with my homework because it was in English.”

Her grades tumbled, but she still made it to fourth grade. 

Finally, De La Cruz’s teacher realized her student needed help outside of the classroom. She connected De La Cruz and her mother to the school’s food pantry. She also helped enroll De La Cruz in after-school tutoring so she could learn English.

All that support made a world of difference for De La Cruz.

“I felt like I wasn’t alone anymore. I had someone in my corner,” she said.

That selfless act continues to resonate for De La Cruz. She became a teacher in an attempt to return that favor her teacher gave her years ago.

Editor’s note: This story was updated Feb. 27, 2023, to clarify the spelling of Jonathan Feinstein’s name.

Jacob Sanchez is an enterprise journalist for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at jacob.sanchez@fortworthreport.org or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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Jacob SanchezEnterprise Reporter

Jacob Sanchez is an enterprise reporter for the Fort Worth Report. His work has appeared in the Temple Daily Telegram, The Texas Tribune and the Texas Observer. He is a graduate of St. Edward’s University....