Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Teacher in Residence Win-win for Teachers, School Districts

Last year, elementary teacher Jessica Hahn could really relate to her students—she was going to school herself.

A college English major, Hahn didn’t decide she wanted to teach until after she had graduated from college. An innovative program at Rio Salado College, called Teacher in Residence (TIR), allows college graduates to earn their teaching degree while they teach.

Hahn moved from St. Louis three years ago to Phoenix where she was able to immediately start teaching using an intern certificate.

Approved by the Arizona Department of Education, Rio Salado’s Teacher in Residence program allows students who currently possess a bachelor’s degree in a non-related education area to receive employment in a classroom while simultaneously completing their education coursework for certification.

By the time Hahn finished the TIR program last May, she already had two years of full-time teaching experience under her belt. She currently teaches first grade at Encanto Elementary School in Phoenix’s Osborn School District.

“This program gave me a chance to teach right away in an area that really needed teachers,” Hahn said.

Many people wanting to be teachers put off their schooling for fear of not having a salary during an unpaid student teaching assignment, said Jennifer Gresko, the director of the Teacher in Residence program for Rio Salado College.

Because students in the program are actually hired by a district as full-time teachers, they receive a first-year teaching salary and benefits while completing their certification.

“If you’re worried about losing pay to go back to school, this is the perfect option. You’re learning the theory at the same time as practice, so you can immediately apply it in the classroom,” Hahn said. “You also have a supervisor to help guide you.”

The TIR program features college supervisors, usually retired teachers or administrators, mentoring the beginning teachers in best practices in teaching and the management of daily classroom responsibilities.

Students must complete at least half of required program coursework by the end of their first year and be successful in their supervised student teaching. They must also renew their intern certificate to continue in the second year of the program.

Arizona schools are also benefiting from the program because they no longer need to wait for qualified candidates with a desire to teach to finish school before they can hire them.

“Districts are struggling to find candidates, especially in the areas of special education and high school math and science,” Gresko said. “When a district finds someone with a background and a four-year degree in one of those areas, they don’t want to miss the opportunity to hire them.”

Rio Salado TIR students work in 225 schools in more than 70 districts throughout Arizona.

The college’s online learning format makes going to school while teaching more manageable. It also makes certification possible for people living in remote or rural areas, Gresko said.

Teacher in Residence and other teacher preparation programs like it are helping to ease Arizona’s teaching shortage, said Rosemary Gaona, the director for transition to teaching programs for the Arizona Department of Education.

“The program started in 2005 and now we’re seeing the graduates complete the program and stay in those high-need schools. We’re finding it to be successful,” she said.

A student may only begin working in the program once they are recommended by a school district for full-time employment and have successfully passed the Arizona Education Proficiency Assessment in the content area for which they are being employed.

For more information, contact the Rio Salado College Teacher in Residence program at 480-517-8126 or visit