Arizona Teacher Residency Program seeks to solve teacher crisis
By Naomi Jordan | Special to the Digital Free Press
Arizona is going through a teacher crisis and local communities are banding together to innovate and find solutions.
One of these is the Arizona Teacher Residency Program, which was launched in 2021 by the Arizona K12 Center. The residency is modeled after a traditional medical residency. Over a two-year term residents will get in-classroom experience, a master’s degree and a stipend.
One of the current residents, Jason Doutree, previously worked for the Arizona Department of Child Safety in the home unit, dealing with “worst-case scenario” type situations. He said he wanted to teach because when he interviewed children at some of the homes he visited, one thing that always came up was how safe they felt at school.
“You would just see like that little glimmer of hope in the kids’ eyes when they spoke about school and the excitement showing me the things that they did,” said Mr. Doutree. “And it just really just excited me.”
Mr. Doutree says he wanted to switch to teaching because he said it was a way he could still serve his community without the mental tax of his current career. He said that he may have substituted, but he would have never pursued his master’s degree if it wasn’t for the residency program.
Director of the Arizona Teacher Residency Program Victoria Theisen-Homer said she believes the program is opening doors for more teachers in Arizona like Mr. Doutree because it offers on the job training while also financially supporting the residents.
Opening doors for new teachers could not come at a better time in Arizona, numbers show.
According to a survey conducted by the Arizona School Personnel Administrators Association, nearly 26% of teacher vacancies went unfilled in Arizona last year, and 55.4% of positions were filled by teachers who did not meet state standards.
Ms. Theisen-Homer said she recognized this extreme need and thought a residency could be a good way to address the shortage in local communities. She was given a grant by Arizona education programs to research this solution and said through her research she determined “not only was this feasible in Arizona, but it was absolutely necessary.”
“The advantage of the residency is that we’re providing high quality teachers that understand and can serve the populations that we’re seeking to serve and that will stay in the profession,” she said.
Ms. Theisen-Homer said the most inspiring part of the program to her is the residents.
“There’s so much going on in the world and there’s a lot of reasons to lose hope but all our residents are just so hopeful,” said Ms. Theisen-Homer. “They’re looking at this world and they want to make it better.”
Bre’yanna Sanders is another resident who is able to pursue her passion for teaching because of the program. Ms. Sanders was a basketball player in college and said she didn’t really have an opportunity to get the exact degree she wanted. She said she wants to become a teacher because she wants to provide a safe space for kids at school and be somebody she needed when she was younger.
After graduating and spending a year working at a preschool, Sanders decided she was going to try to be a substitute teacher. When she saw the residency program, she decided to take that path instead.
“I think the program really guarantees that you’re going to be led by amazing people, you’re going to be taught to learn and how to teach,” said Ms. Sanders. “I really think this is way more helpful than just taking some courses and going into the classroom.”
Editor’s note: Ms. Jordan is a journalism student at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University.